Elections

If you vote by mail, here’s how to make sure your ballot gets counted in Miami-Dade

From left, Miami-Dade County Elections Department members County Judges Tanya Brinkley and Victoria Ferrer with Christina White, Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor, review ballots as part of the recount process in Doral on Saturday November 17, 2018.
From left, Miami-Dade County Elections Department members County Judges Tanya Brinkley and Victoria Ferrer with Christina White, Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor, review ballots as part of the recount process in Doral on Saturday November 17, 2018. pportal@miamiherald.com

Voters in four Miami-Dade cities have local municipal elections, but many won’t enter a voting precinct to cast a ballot.

Voting by mail has become an increasingly popular way to participate in Florida’s elections, and mailed ballots are expected to play a significant role in deciding this year’s races in the cities of Miami, Hialeah, Miami Beach and Homestead.

There are some things to remember when submitting ballots through snail mail.

First, voters need to make sure their registration is up-to-date with a current address and current signature — signatures can change over time, so elections officials encourage voters to have their latest signature on file. This is crucial to making sure the vote is counted — elections officials check the signatures on mailed ballots with the signatures the department has on file to ensure that the vote is legitimate.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to update your signature,” said Christina White, Miami-Dade’s supervisor of elections.

The deadline for registering to vote in the November 2019 election is Oct. 7. That deadline does not apply to updating one’s signature. Voters can update their signature at any time before submitting vote-by-mail ballots, which are also known as absentee ballots, but they should submit their updated signature before sending in the ballot.

Vote-by-mail ballots must be requested by 5 p.m. on Oct. 26, 10 days before the Nov. 5 election. Then the voters need to get the ballots back to the elections department no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day. Voters who choose to mail the ballot back need to sign the red box on the back of the certificate envelope with the ballot and make sure to mail in plenty of time for the ballot to arrive at the elections department by that 7 p.m. deadline. The postmark does not count — the ballot needs to be in elections officials’ hands by that time.

If you worry about the mail, you can also drop the ballot off during early voting. Voting locations will have lockboxes for absentee ballots.

If signatures do not match when the votes are examined, White said the Elections Department will double-check with the voter by mailing them an affidavit to confirm that the ballot is legitimate. After a change in state law this year, voters who get affidavits will have until 5 p.m. the Thursday after the election — Nov. 7 — to return the affidavit.

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The signature on the envelope, and whether it matches the signature on file, is important — and ballots that are rejected due to mismatched signatures can make a difference. A 2018 study of the past two presidential elections found that mail ballots were 10 times more likely to be rejected than votes cast at early voting sites or on Election Day. The study also found that mail ballots cast by the youngest voters, blacks and Hispanics were even more likely to be rejected than those of white voters, and that those voters were also less likely to correct the signature issues when notified by elections departments.

A key piece of advice from Miami-Dade elections officials: Open any mail you receive from Miami-Dade elections.

“Read the mail,” White said.

The use of absentee ballots has played a role in alleged and proven fraud in the past — a mayoral election in Miami was overturned in court after ballot fraud tainted the vote. Tightened laws have made fraud more often the exception, not the rule.

Under state law, a voter can designate, in writing, another person to pick up the voter’s ballot. That designated person may not pick up more than two ballots other than their own, unless they are ballots of immediate family members.

Moving primarily to mail ballots has increased turnout in other states for typically low-turnout, non-presidential elections, and a Pew Research study found that the cost of holding elections this way reduces costs by 40 percent.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.
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