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What has changed with early voting and mail-in ballots in Florida? We clear up the confusion

Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media

WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Brian Corley, supervisor of elections for Pasco County, to answer some questions about the process.

Early voting started Monday in Hillsborough County. Most other counties in the greater Tampa Bay region start early voting Saturday, Aug. 13.

There are several new laws that go into effect this election.

  • One prohibits people who would help others drop off vote-by-mail ballots from having more than two vote-by-mail ballots other than their own, unless they belong to immediate family members.
  • Elections offices would have to monitor ballot drop boxes. And they will only be available at the same time as early voting hours, meaning voters can’t use drop boxes after hours.
  • And anyone requesting a vote by mail ballot would have to have a driver's license number, state ID or the last four digits of a Social Security number.

VOTER GUIDE: Details on early voting, vote-by-mail, and what you need to know

WUSF's Steve Newborn spoke with Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley to clear up some of the confusion.

Corley: In Florida, there's kind of a three-legged stool. There's of course election day voting at your neighborhood polling place. There's early voting, which takes place from either eight to 15 days of spots designated around the county. And ours actually ends the following Saturday, which would be the 20th. And then of course, there's vote by mail. So that's the third wave. So voting is actually already happening. We've already gotten back nearly 30,000 completed vote by mail ballots.

Is that considered a pretty high number for primary?

At this point, no. Historically, you're looking at approximately about a 50% turnout for the general election. For the primary, sadly, it's much less than that. It shouldn't be because there's some important issues on the local referendum on the ballot.

What kind of changes have gone into effect this election? As far as early voting is concerned.

Well, there's really no significant changes other than we'll continue to have what are now referred to as secure ballot interpretation, or what formerly was known as dropboxes. A voter has their vote by mail ballot, and doesn't want to mail it in. They can physically drop it off outside of our early voting sites. The voters really won't notice much changes. One of the great things about early voting is like for example, in Pasco, we have 12 locations, and it doesn't matter where you are in the county, we'll custom print your ballot, because you know, each ballot of course is unique based on party style and what-not.

And tell us about the changes that have been done to vote by mail. Are there some major changes that the legislature approved this year that we need to know about?

Yeah, a couple of things is that now you when requesting a ballot, you need to disclose either, in addition of course, your obvious identifying information, you have to disclose last for your social or the driver's license, that's unique. You can only have no more than two of completed ballots that are not your immediate family member. And those are really the major things and the rest of it, the voters really won't see much of a difference. You can drop it off, it just needs to be in our office by 7 p.m. Election Day. It can't be postmarked, it has to physically be at your neighborhood election polling place. Rather, the law says the supervisor elections office.

We've been getting a lot of press and hearing a lot of stories about the changes that have been going on from the legislature for this year's election season. Are you hearing a lot of that from people out there? Is there a lot of confusion out there that you're you're having to deal with and rectify?

Actually no, not getting a whole lot of increase. It's more, there's some things behind the scenes that are impacting the way we administer office and of course elections. But from the voters' perspective, not seeing a whole lot of inquiries.

So mostly, it's just you have to monitor the the drop boxes. It's stuff like that, that really doesn't impact the vast majority of the voters out there. So people really don't have to be worried about the changes.

That's exactly right. For all practical purposes, you just need to come out and have their voice heard. That's the most important thing.

Anything else you want to say?

There's been a lot of focus on the election security and election integrity. And please report that elections are both secure and transparent. So when in doubt, reach out to your respective supervisor of elections and let us guide you. And just remember, again, there's usually a pretty dismal turnout primary and I think we at a minimum we owe it to those that wore and wear the uniform to come out and certainly vote. As a veteran have your voice heard.

The goal of our democracy team at WUSF News is to provide you with accurate, honest journalism to empower and inform you about voting and elections.

Our journalists are independent, curious, respectful, and accountable to you. We’re committed to keeping you at the center of this conversation on democracy, staying in touch through surveys, social media, and in-person events. We won’t be chasing politicians, but instead we’ll tell stories based on the questions you want answered.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.