Absentee ballots for the Republican presidential primary will start hitting the mail Tuesday, but thousands of Florida voters who think they’ve signed up to get one may be surprised. Elections supervisors say they fear many voters aren’t aware that a 2010 election law change eliminated a provision that automatically sent an absentee ballot to every voter who had requested one in the previous election. And some blame ignorance of the change for a big drop in applications in advance of the Jan. 31 primary.
“It’s dramatically decreased,” said Seminole County Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel. “The reason is, after the 2010 election, almost everybody’s absentee ballot request expired.” Ertel’s office has received only 2,366 requests so far from his county’s heavily Republican electorate, compared with 6,663 absentee ballots cast in the 2008 GOP presidential primary. Similarly, Palm Beach County reported 4,857 requests by mid-week, compared with 9,612 in the 2008 election.
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Though some other counties also report big dropoffs, the pattern is not being seen everywhere. Orange County’s 16,038 requests exceeds the number of Republican absentee primary ballots cast in 2008. Osceola County’s total of 3,991 requests is only slightly down from 4,387.
Statewide, the Florida Division of Elections reports the 630,000 requests for Republican ballots already surpass the 2008 total of 626,000, a reflection perhaps of the hot contest in a big GOP field.
But the changes in state law have some officials worried, and they are urging people who think they have standing requests for absentee ballots to double-check with county elections offices. Some, including Ertel, are sending out reminder cards to all previous absentee voters, as are some GOP candidates.
“We’re very concerned,” said Palm Beach County Election Supervisor Susan Bucher.