Democrats all over the state including in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are rallying volunteers to track down voters who may have cast a provisional ballot to ensure their vote counts.
Democrats are within razor thin margins in several state and local races throughout Florida. State law requires a machine recount if an election is within 0.5 percent. At 0.25 percent, it triggers a manual recount.
Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried already is in manual recount territory. The South Florida Democrat needs just north of 4,000 votes to beat out Republican Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers state representative.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is trailing Gov. Rick Scott by 0.26 percent, less than 1,000 votes from a manual recount and already within machine recount territory.
The Governor’s race, as of now, puts Andrew Gillum just out of reach of a recount at a margin of 0.52 percent.
But Democrats’ efforts to track down votes might be excessive, according to Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer.
“The provisional ballot process is outlined in state statute down to what has to be in the envelope,” Latimer said.
When voters cast a provisional ballot, it goes into a sealed envelope that has to be signed and voters are given a receipt with identification that can be used to track whether or not it’s been tabulated.
There are a few reasons people cast provisional ballots rather than regular ones, Latimer said. One of the most common is that people aren’t registered to vote. Those instances are usually newly registered voters who registered after the deadline for the election in which they’re voting.
In that case, no matter who tracks them down, their vote is not going to count: “You can’t cure not being registered,” Latimer said.
Another instance in which provisional ballots won’t count are in cases of people voting at the wrong precinct.
Hillsborough County’s procedure for that is to notify the voter they are in the wrong precinct and then direct them to the proper precinct. Election Day voting requires ballots be cast at the appropriate polling place.
“In some instances they will not take our advice to go to the right polling place and insist on doing it in the wrong polling place,” Latimer said.
Those votes will not count.
Provisional ballots that could tip some scales in this year’s contentious midterm election are those cast by voters who forgot their identification.
In those cases voters’ ballots are processed in much the same way as mail ballots. The voter signs a form, the ballot goes into the sealed envelope and then, later, the county’s canvassing board reviews the signature against the one on file.
If the signature matches and the person is an eligible voter, the vote is tabulated. If it doesn’t or they aren’t, it isn’t.
But voting advocates seeking to ensure all votes are counted — a noble effort no matter party affiliation — are encouraging voters to head to supervisors of elections offices statewide with their identifications to validate their votes.
In the case of voters who forgot their IDs, that’s not necessary.
There’s another area candidates could gain some votes post-Election Day. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and others notify voters whose ballot signatures don’t match that on file.
Those voters are given the option to fill out an affidavit confirming they are who they say they are along with a qualifying identification — things like a state ID, drivers license, military ID or passport.
Voters in that situation had until Monday to do that. If they didn’t do it then, they can’t do it now. Their vote won’t count.
So, this massive statewide effort to help find more votes in hopes it might help Democrats who appeared to lose Tuesday night might simply be a case of duplicative work.
That’s not to say it’s not a valiant effort. “Maybe it brings an awareness to some of the people,” Latimer said.
Maybe that awareness will drive more people to the polls next time. Or maybe it will help people understand how to make sure their votes count before election results come in on Election Day.
There is one thing Latimer hopes voters walk away learning from this process.
“There’s a big myth out there that provisional ballots are bad,” Latimer said. “They’re not bad. It gives that person a chance to vote, and us time to research it to make sure it’s valid and gets counted.”
The Hillsborough canvassing board meets at 5 p.m. Thursday to tabulate or reject any remaining mail ballots that haven’t been counted, vet provisional ballots and prepare the county’s first unofficial election results for the Florida Department of State.
The process will likely change the vote counts and might add some tallies to candidates Democrats are hoping to nudge, but that’s going to happen with or without volunteers spending all days making calls.