With a presidential primary right around the corner, many Florida voters are being told they must update their legal signatures to ensure that their absentee ballots will be counted. Hundreds of thousands of voters have received letters from county elections supervisors urging them to fill out new voter registration forms or risk having their ballots rejected. The practice of signature verification is becoming increasingly common as more Floridians vote by mail rather than at early voting sites or on Election Day. Now that the Legislature allows voting by mail for any reason, experts say it’s inevitable that it will become the preferred way of casting ballots in Florida. “You MUST complete the enclosed voter registration application and check the ‘signature update’ box so that we can update your voter registration record,” reads a letter from Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley. “If you plan to vote by absentee ballot in an upcoming election, be sure to submit your signature update at least 15 days prior to the election.”
Townsley sent letters to all 189,000 Miami-Dade voters who have absentee ballot requests on file. They were printed in English, Spanish and Creole and included return postage at a cost of about $100,000. Double-checking signatures on absentee ballot envelopes is required by state law as a check against voter fraud in a state that has had serious problems with it.
When elections workers see a signature on an absentee ballot envelope that does not match the voter’s signature on file, the ballot is set aside and reviewed by a three-member canvassing board that renders a final decision as to whether the ballot is counted.
After the election, supervisors must send letters notifying all voters whose ballots were rejected. The ratio varies from county to county, but it’s usually less than one-tenth of 1 percent of absentee ballots cast. In November 2014, out of a total of 6 million ballots cast, 1.9 million were by absentee, meaning nearly one of every three voters.