Vote-by-mail ballots have been the most cast in Florida in the last two election cycles, the latter of which saw the GOP sweep statewide offices and earn a legislative supermajority.
Yet there is always room for improvement, Secretary of State Cord Byrd told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. He was on hand to present a report from the Florida Department of State on voting by mail, election security, and other related issues.
While Byrd isn’t pushing for any changes that would affect the 2024 election cycle, as there isn’t time to implement them, he did point out some issues with mail ballots that still persist despite election reforms favored by Gov. Ron DeSantis during his first term.
Byrd noted there was an uptick in 2020 in voting by mail, which he attributed to the pandemic. He also noted that the 2022 election saw vote-by-mail changes, and “while the election cycle was a success, without vote-by-mail irregularities that have plagued other states, the impact of those changes … is still in play.”
The report from the Department of State proposes changes primarily to the vote-by-mail request process.
Among those proposed alterations to state law: a uniform request form for vote-by-mail ballots, verification of personal identifying numbers of voters and signatures, the elimination of telephonic requests, a message on envelopes prohibiting forwarding ballots, and prescription of when a voter or designee can pick up a ballot when an emergency precludes in-person voting.
More than 600,000 voters on the rolls do not have identifying numbers on file, Byrd noted, and his recommendation was that those numbers be provided whenever records are updated.
A Florida Supervisor of Elections’ Revision Workgroup noted a “current supply chain strain (paper, equipment, and other consumables)” and what would be a “challenge to reeducate and prepare voters on new potential VBM envelopes and processes just before the 2024 presidential election cycle (less than one year away).”
Byrd noted that book closing for the 2024 Presidential Primary will be a year from Monday.
Committee Vice Chair Darryl Rouson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, had questions as to how voters are educated about changes, and Byrd noted that much of that education is through the county Supervisors of Elections.
“We don’t have until August of next year to begin education,” Byrd affirmed, because it is a Presidential Election year.
Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky pressed Byrd for details on the proposed statewide uniform application, which Byrd noted could be done by mail, electronically, or even fax, but would help verification and to keep “voter rolls as clean as possible.”
Asked about telephonic vote-by-mail requests, Byrd said that doing more “on the front end” could conceivably lead to less work on the back end, with more “parameters” around vote-by-mail requests.
“The concern being that someone on the phone could provide someone’s driver’s license number if you knew their name or date of birth,” Byrd said.
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley extolled the working relationship with Byrd, noting that Florida has a “well-earned” reputation in getting elections right in recent decades, with “election security” also in a good place.
He added that voter education about recent changes is “still playing out,” meanwhile, especially regarding the need to request mail ballots every cycle.
Some voters, he added, “are still being caught by surprise.”
Earley noted that vote-by-mail mailouts go out in early January, and with budgets going into effect in October, changes to ballots would prove logistically difficult indeed.