I read Mr. Ginnow’s letter about how he had such an unfortunate experience with absentee ballots, and I found it sad that his letter appeared online on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, a day we honor those who made it possible for us to continue to exercise our right to vote.
I don’t want him to become discouraged with the process. Mr. Ginnow is correct with his reading of section 101.68(1), Florida Statutes, in that the supervisor is to compare the signature on the envelope of the absentee ballot with the signature on file to determine if the voter is a duly registered elector. The section continues and provides the supervisor “may record on the elector’s registration certificate that the elector has voted.” However, there are other sections of the statutes that impacted his experience.
Once an absentee ballot is received, the signature on the voter's certificate, located on the backside of the return envelope, is checked by the supervisor of elections and/or the office staff, and compared with the signature of the voter in the registration books (Section 101.68(c), F.S.). If the signature does not match, the envelope, containing the voted ballot, is referred to the Canvassing Board, along with a print-out of the signature on file for that voter. The Canvassing Board reviews the signature on file with that which appears on the voter’s certificate. In accordance with section 101.68(c), Florida Statutes, “An absentee ballot shall be considered illegal if the voter’s certificate or absentee ballot affidavit does not include the signature of the elector, as shown by the registration records or the precinct register.”
The envelope is not opened and the Canvassing Board, in accordance with the provisions of 101.68(c), marks the envelope as "rejected as illegal.” The supervisor then notifies the elector that the ballot was rejected because of the difference in signatures section 101.68(d) (4), F.S. A voter registration application is mailed to the voter so the voter may update his or her signature.
Mr. Ginnow received his letter from the supervisor on Nov. 3, the Monday before the General Election. Although I do not know Mr. Ginnow, I cannot help but think that he, like many voters, may not have understood the significance of returning a voted absentee ballot to the supervisor’s office and then having the ballot canvassed.
Essentially, the ballot is recorded as the voter having cast his or her ballot; even though the envelope is never opened and the ballot is never processed through a tabulation device. This is an excellent example of why knowledge is powerful and why it is important to update signatures on a regular basis; after all, we all experience changes with our signatures over time.
Having read his letter and learning that his ballot had been rejected, Mr. Ginnow did what any conscientious voter would have done. He accessed the supervisor’s web page in search of the proper process; unfortunately, the information that appears on the website does not define the difference between returning a voted absentee ballot and not returning a requested absentee ballot. Mr. Ginnow requested and received his absentee ballot. He completed his ballot, placed it in the return envelope, signed the voter’s certificate, and mailed it to the supervisor’s office. He voted his ballot. Once canvassed, he was deemed to have cast his ballot, despite the ballot being “rejected as illegal.” Under this circumstance, section 101.69, Florida Statutes, is quite clear:
“An elector who has returned a voted absentee ballot to the supervisor, however, is deemed to have cast his or her ballot and is not entitled to vote another ballot or to have a provisional ballot counted by the county canvassing board” (emphasis added).
Had Mr. Ginnow requested an absentee ballot and then decided to not vote the absentee; but, instead vote in person at the polls, he would have been required to bring his absentee ballot to his precinct, turn it in to the clerk, and he would have been allowed to vote in person at the polling site (s. 101.69, F.S.). In this case, the ballot is marked “canceled” by the clerk of the precinct.
The supervisor was right in sending the letter to Mr. Ginnow; however, in my opinion, given that his ballot was rejected so close to Election Day, and since the statutes provide for alternate ways of updating and verifying the signatures, perhaps a simple phone call, or expanded information on the website would have prevented the ultimate outcome of this experience; a vote was not counted.
In addition to researching the specific statutes for the canvassing of absentee ballots and voting in person, I also considered if Mr. Ginnow’s situation could have been averted by issuing him a provisional ballot. Since I was not completely certain, I sent an inquiry to the Florida Division of Elections, as the language, as noted by Mr. Ginnow, is ambiguous. Their reply provided that issuing a provisional ballot would not have been permissible. The key elements to this entire series of events were:
1. The signatures did not match
2. The voted ballot had already been received by the supervisor’s office
3. Once received, the ballot is deemed as cast
4. The ballot had already been canvassed
Hence, and in accordance with the statutes, Mr. Ginnow could not be allowed to vote more than once, and neither could he have a provisional ballot go before the Canvassing Board.
I truly regret what happened to Mr. Ginnow and would ask to him not become dismayed with voting by absentee. I have been voting since I was 18. I voted at the polls when Florida did not offer early voting and when requesting an absentee required certain reasons, such as being out of town on Election Day; and, the absentee ballot had to be voted at the supervisor’s office. When early voting was available, I took advantage of this method, especially during work hours. For the past few years, I have voted by absentee; and I love it! It provides me with a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee, have my ballot in front of me with all of my notes, and vote in the comfort of my home; thereby avoiding lines at either early voting sites, or precincts.
Within less than 11 weeks to Special Election Primary Day, earlier than that for absentee and early voting, Flagler voters will head to the polls to determine primary winners for Florida State Senate District 6 and Florida State House Representative District 24. I do not wish to see either Mr. Ginnow, or any other voters discouraged, or worse, not have their vote count. Knowledge is power. Nowhere else does this ring true than with our right to vote. We as voters bear responsibilities to make sure our vote counts. Likewise, voter education is crucial; especially when voters are presented with a situation that ultimately caused a vote to not be counted. So, before primary season is upon us, take a few minutes and update your signatures. If you plan to vote on Election Day, make sure to find your precinct.
I do thank Mr. Ginnow for sharing his experience; and I do thank him for his perseverance. I hope other voters will take note of his persistence and go vote.
Kim Medley is a former candidate for the office of supervisor of elections. She is pursuing her masters in leadership at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.