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Voting By Mail In Broward County: Ballots For August On The Way

Florida Recount 2018
Caitie Switalski
Election workers in Broward County preparing for the 2018 recounts in Lauderhill.

Ballots for people to vote by mail are on the way to Broward voters. 

The county elections office put more than 240,000 ballots in the mail Thursday. More than 65,000 more will be sent out next Monday, according to Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci.

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"People generally don't recognize that it starts 45 days before the election, the mail starts going out," Antonacci said. 

Early voting begins on August 8. Election Day is August 18. Broward County voters — including those without a party affilation, Democrats and Republicans — will have judges, school board members and state lawmakers to cast votes for. 


See your sample ballot here


More people have been requesting to vote remotely during the pandemic, and Antonacci said he expects that number to keep growing. Recently, the Broward elections office mailed a postcard to every voter who had not requested to vote-by-mail previously, and Antonacci said the pop up box on the office's website has been driving a lot of the signups. 


"The response to that has been very high," Antonacci said. "It's not 100 percent that when you send out a ballot that people are going to execute it and return it, it's been pretty spotty in the past."


Just over 291,000 vote-by-mail ballots were mailed to voters in the 2016 general election and of those, more than 203,000 were returned on time to be counted, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office. 


In past elections, getting vote-by-mail ballots to the voters hasn't been the issue for elections officials — instead those issues arise when people return them.


There were several issues tracking and processing vote-by-mail ballots in Broward County in 2018, before Antonacci was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott to replace an ousted Brenda Snipes.


An audit of that midterm election, released by the county auditor in April, found that, "backlogs in processing and tabulating Vote-By-Mail ballots delayed election results." 


"Vote-By-Mail and unused ballots were not adequately tracked," the audit concluded. 


Part of the process that took many hours during the 2018 election and recount process was when workers needed to match someone's signature on their vote-by-mail ballot to the signature they used when they registered to vote — one by one.   


"New vote-by-mail procedures were adopted for the March 2020 election,” Antonacci wrote to the Broward county commission in a letter responding to the audit. 


“…All [vote-by-mail] ballots received from the Opa Locka and Fort Lauderdale post offices were processed and tabulated on election night. Additional [vote-by-mail] and IT staff will be needed to successfully deploy the new procedures, particularly in light of post -COVID-19 generated [vote-by-mail] demand in August and November.”


Part of Antonacci's response to the audit also included purchasing software to match signatures electronically. Though, Antonacci told WLRN Thursday that's not a perfect fix. 


"The electronic match works pretty well, but it only clears about 40 percent. So 60 percent of the vote-by-mail ballots that are returned will be, likely, observed and scrutinized by human means," he said.


In May, the county commission voted to give the supervisor's office more than $2.3 million in funding to address the impacts of the coronavirus on elections. About $775,000 of that money went towards the purchase of an additional machine to keep up with the new vote-by-mail demand.


"We've added it to our four others," Antonacci said. "And we believe that, and with additional temporary labor, we'll be able to handle the volume."


Vote-by-mail has been rising in popularity during the pandemic, but the practice has also been viewed with new doubt. President Donald Trump has voiced opposition to voting by mail, via Twitter in recent months. His claims against the voting method have received a fact-checking stamp from the social media platform and been denounced by election experts. 


Read More: Why Is Voting By Mail (Suddenly) Controversial? Here's What You Need To Know


Antonacci insists any national scrutiny doesn't affect Broward County's preparations to beef up its ability to count vote-by-mail ballots, and that, "it's a safe way to vote." But there are alternatives for people who have suspicions about the post office. 


"The United States Post Office deals with billions and billions of pieces of paper everyday, there are going to be mistakes," Antonacci said. "By and large the postal service works very well...Make sure you guard your privacy, if you don't want to put it in the mail, bring it to one of our drop boxes or to an early voting site."