If you vote early in an election in Florida, it’s there for the world to see: The Legislature requires an online listing of everyone who voted early and when and where they voted. But if you vote by mail and request an absentee ballot, it’s a closely held secret, available to a few. The Legislature mandated that, too. As more people vote by mail, including one of every three people who voted in the Aug. 14 primary, candidates must spend more time and money seeking to influence those voters before they fill out their ballots.
The practice of “chasing” absentee voters with direct mail and phone calls is a key strategic component of any effective campaign. “They’ve had to adapt their campaigns to those voters,” says Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.
But Clark and other county elections officials can give absentee ballot requests only to candidates with opposition, political parties, political committees and committees of continuous existence, known as CCEs, which are mostly controlled by trade groups, unions or legislators. The information is off limits to the public. Yet, as it grows in popularity in Florida, absentee voting is more prone to fraud and other problems as ballots pass through many pairs of hands