Site Map
Voting News
Contact Us
About Us

is NOT!
associated with

Some seek changes in absentee voting

By Nirvi Shah

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, November 14, 2004

More than 1.3 million Floridians voted with absentee ballots during November's election ? about twice as many as four years ago.

Though Floridians embraced the opportunity to vote by mail, it didn't love them back: The overtaxed system couldn't keep up with voter demand for paper ballots, the deadlines ? or lack of them ? delayed the printing and mailing of ballots, and hundreds of temporary election workers were charged with scrutinizing signed envelopes ? fast ? to decide whether they were legitimate.
 Despite a change to Florida law made after the 2000 election that allows anyone to vote absentee, many of the laws that govern mail-in ballots didn't anticipate how widely they would be used and the challenges large counties would face in case of a crush of absentee requests. Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the state's top elections official, did not respond to several requests for an interview for this story.

State Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, has plans to change the system, in anticipation of even heavier future use. He calls the problems that occurred a disaster.

Outgoing Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore calls the massive demand an anomaly and cautions legislators against crafting shoot-from-the-hip remedies. She believes lawmakers could create new problems by tinkering with the laws that were written to solve the problems of the 2000 election, she said.

Klein's complaints begin with voters unable to confirm the status of their request for an absentee ballot. Many of them requested a ballot online but said they couldn't confirm whether their request was processed. When their ballot didn't arrive, they called their elections office, which had no record of their request. In some cases, by the time they realized a ballot wasn't on its way, it was too late.

"There should be a system of verification and receipt no different from when you buy a movie ticket at Muvico," Klein said.

Hundreds of voters ? including Klein's son, a student at the University of Michigan ? couldn't vote because their early orders for ballots disappeared. Though elections supervisors blamed postal workers for delays getting ballots to voters on time, Klein doesn't.

"Direct mail is done in the billions of parcels each year," the state Senate minority leader said.

Klein and LePore do agree on one thing that could erase a last-minute ballot-mailing frenzy: deadlines, both for changing whose names will appear on ballots and for submitting requests to vote absentee.

The state must set deadlines for resolving ballot disputes, such as the placement of Ralph Nader's name on the ballot, at least 30 days before the election, Klein said. That would allow plenty of time to print ballots and mail them to voters in a timely fashion. But elections offices then must be required to mail ballots within five days of the decision about what the final ballot lineup will be, Klein said.

Requests came late

With the advent of early voting, Klein also suggests a deadline by which voters must request an absentee ballot ? as long as there are ample sites for early voting and machines at those sites are plentiful, as they were in Miami-Dade County.

"We got requests for overseas ballots Oct. 28 and 29," LePore said. Election Day was Nov. 2. "People just don't think about it."

In all three big South Florida counties, and about 20 statewide, double the number of voters chose to vote by mail compared with 2000. But in Miami-Dade, nearly a quarter of a million people voted early in person, so despite the million-plus registered voters in the county, fewer voters there voted absentee than in smaller Broward and Palm Beach counties. Assured of the opportunity to vote in person, only voters who are sure they will be unable to vote in person will go the paper route, Klein reasons.

LePore had to hire 150 temporary employees just to handle phone calls and review absentee ballots. As they came in ? by the bucketful, including 65 buckets on Election Day alone ? they were time-stamped and sorted by which of the 155 ballot types they were. Then the signature file of every voter was pulled for comparison. Questionable or unsigned ballots were stacked for the canvassing board to review, and the rest were set aside to be counted. The piles of ballots that arrived on Election Day weren't touched until the next day.

"At some point, you have to expect human error," canvassing board member Karen Marcus said, because of the sheer volume of ballots elections offices had to handle.

In Oregon, where all voting is done by mail, signatures have been computerized to save elections workers time.

The Palm Beach County canvassing board rejected as many as 2,000 absentee ballots, most of which lacked signatures, but also many that had signatures that didn't match those on file with the elections office. LePore said she used public service announcements and voters' registration cards to inform people about updating their on-file signatures. But few do that, she said.

One member of the canvassing board believes there should be more education.

"I think there does have to be a tremendous effort made to let the general public know, if time is passing and it has been a long time since you registered, vote on a machine or you might want to make some time to your signature," County Judge Barry Cohen said.

An expert on signatures

He and the rest of the three-member canvassing board ? LePore and Marcus, who is chairwoman of the county commission ? said they were extra careful with the ballots of older voters, and both Cohen and Marcus said they relied on LePore's expertise to make many of the handwriting evaluations.

"It's time for Ms. LePore's Pencil Show," Cohen quipped. "She would just point to certain things, point out similarities that weren't obvious to Karen Marcus or myself."

LePore said many of the signatures that didn't match were actually those of recently registered voters. "I don't know if they were signing a clipboard and they were in a hurry and signed more carefully with their absentee ballot or what," she said.

In Oregon, if a signature doesn't match, an elections clerk informs the voter, who has 10 days to correct it. If the clerk is satisfied, the vote is counted, even days after Election Day. But in that West Coast state, about as many people voted statewide as did by absentee ballot alone in Florida.

No matter what reforms are made, they won't affect LePore, whose term expires in January. She said this election was "very smooth" despite the hype.

"We always expect problems," she said. "A supervisor of elections is lying if they don't expect problems."

Previous Page

Election Problem Log image
2004 to 2009


Accessibility Issues
Accessibility Issues

Cost Comparisons
Cost Comparisons

Flyers & Handouts

VotersUnite News Exclusives

Search by

Copyright © 2004-2010 VotersUnite!