An independent government watchdog on Wednesday released an in-depth analysis of how the state is poised to handle an increase in voting by mail, stimulated by the pandemic, this election cycle.
The 38-page report also looks at what went wrong in Florida’s 2018 elections and reviews legislative fixes passed in 2019 to correct those problems.
“When it comes to the integrity of an election, perception is everything,” said Ben Wilcox, Research Director of Integrity Florida, during a Zoom conference with reporters Wednesday morning. “That’s especially true in Florida where close elections and post-election meltdowns are the norm rather than the exception.”
The report took a close look at the 2018 election, with its historic voter turnout for a midterm election and three statewide races that required a recount. The biggest problems were in Broward and Palm Beach counties, which led to allegations of voter fraud and misconduct by elections officials.
Read the report here —VBM: A Safe Option for Florida Voters – The Implications in a Battleground State
Both supervisors, in heavily Democratic counties, were removed and replaced by Republican governors — Broward’s longtime supervisor was replaced by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott with GOP troubleshooter Pete Antonacci, and Palm Beach’s supervisor was replaced by Gov. Ron DeSantis shortly after he took office with Palm Beach County attorney Wendy Sartory Link, a longtime Republican who became a Democrat this year.
Their replacements raised concerns about partisanship, but both supervisors have worked hard to fix the problems of the past and ensure voter participation, Wilcox said.
The study also delved into changes made by the Legislature in 2019 and 2020 to address problems encountered in 2018 and modify the vote-by-mail process.
The Legislature passed a bill (SB 7066) that was an omnibus of election reforms crafted by election supervisors and lawmakers keen to not repeat the mistakes of the past. The legislation:
- Extended the deadline to cure defective ballots from 5 p.m. on the day before the election to 5 p.m. the second day after the election.
- Modified the ballot envelope to include voters’ email address to notify them if their signatures were defective.
- Created a provisional ballot signature “cure” process that mirrors the revised vote-by-mail process.
- Moved the last day for voters to request mail ballots from six to 10 days before an election.
- Prohibits supervisors from mailing out such ballots less than eight days prior to an election.
- Allowed supervisors to mail out ballots between 40 and 33 days before an election, rather than the previous 35 to 28 days.
- Allowed voters to drop off their ballots at a secure drop box location at each active early voting site and the supervisor’s offices.
- Allowed canvassing of mail ballots to start a week earlier, at 22 days before the election instead of 15.
“A lot of work was done by the Legislature and election supervisors to make sure the vote-by-mail system is reliable,” Wilcox said. “I think we’re in good shape, but I could easily be proven wrong given that this is Florida.”
The report also examined the impact COVID-19 will likely have on voting in Florida and nationally. More people are deciding to vote by mail rather than show up at precincts to vote, where they could risk exposure to the coronavirus.
“I’m sure there will be a lot more voters by mail in this election,” Wilcox said.
The report also explores allegations made by President Donald Trump and other Republicans that increased voting by mail will lead to increased voter fraud.
It looked at the five states that have universal mail ballots — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — and 29 “no excuses” states, including Florida, where people don’t need to give a reason to vote by mail.
Florida voters have had that option since 2002. In 2016, under Scott, the state replaced the term “absentee ballot” to “vote-by-mail” to reflect the no-excuse clause.
Despite what officials have said, vote-by-mail doesn’t favor any political party, Wilcox said. Studies have shown it helps increase voter participation of both parties, and it’s exceedingly rare to conduct vote fraud by mail, Wilcox said.
A Washington Post study found only 372 possible cases of double-voting out of 14.6 million votes cast in three vote-by-mail states in the 2016 and 2018 elections. Nearly every credible study refutes Trump’s warnings about widespread voter fraud by mail, the report said.
The study also showed many Republicans pushing back against Trump’s criticism of mail-in voting, and universal voting by mail in particular.
In light of recent reports that more Democrats than Republicans were requesting to vote by mail, Trump recently signaled support for mail-in voting in Florida, which he declared was “Safe and Secure, Tried and True” on Tuesday.
While Trump criticizes universal mail-in voting, the Integrity Florida report recommends Florida lawmakers consider it as an option in future elections.
“I am not sure how seriously people are taking President Trump for his advice for the election,” Wilcox told reporters. “I think it is based more on a re-election strategy than reality.”
Contact Jeff Schweers at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
Subscribe today and never miss a story.