TALLAHASSEE, FL. - Before the Presidential Election in 2024, Florida may alter its rules for mail-in ballots. A list of possible changes has been compiled by the office of Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, and the Republican-led Legislature may implement them this spring. However, the department's 60-page report to state lawmakers does not recommend any new identification requirements, which the state's local election supervisors strongly oppose.
Rather, the report suggested several changes to make the vote-by-mail process more secure. Although one of these changes would require election supervisors to check a voter's signature on a request for a mail-in ballot, which is what some local election officials already do to some of the recommendations, Democrats who are wary of proposals that target mail-in voting may respond with yet another partisan firestorm.
Republicans dominated Florida's mail-in voting for a long time, but this has changed recently, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Postal ballots were cast by 2.7 million Floridians in the 2022 elections, with Democrats receiving 43% and Republicans 36% of the votes.
Brad Ashwell, Florida director of All Voting Is Local, applauded the department's recommendation to authorize the creation of a uniform vote-by-mail ballot request form. However, he deemed the department's proposals largely "unnecessary."
He stated that the most recent changes have already hurt voters and that it would be "asinine" to make any more changes before the 2024 election, which could see a much higher turnout, was held. Additionally, he suggested that excluding telephone ballot requests might make it more challenging for elderly and disabled voters to cast ballots.
Following numerous criticisms from former President Donald Trump, GOP legislators in Florida have made some changes to mail-in voting since the 2020 election. Democrats and voting rights groups voiced strong opposition to a law passed in 2021 that limited the number of mail-in ballots available to voters who were elderly or ill to two.
Republicans have made changes such as not collecting more than two mail-in ballots from people outside of a family and restricting the locations where voters could drop off their ballots. Yet, they have resisted suggestions to ban no-excuse mail voting or allow voters to vote by mail without providing a reason.
At first, lawmakers considered requiring voters to include personal information like a driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their returns to supervisors. Nonetheless, this would have likely necessitated using a different envelope. So the change was overturned, and the State Department was tasked with suggesting new ways to make ID requirements higher.
In January, election supervisors from all over the state warned about widespread changes. The report stated that requiring voters to include personal information on their ballots would delay ballot counting, raise costs, confuse voters, and increase the risk of identity theft. So instead of recommending that voters include identifying information on their ballot envelopes, the department's final report focused on the "ballot request process."
Local supervisors appreciated the "credence" given to their concerns about possible identification changes, according to Mark Earley, supervisor of elections for Leon County and head of the supervisors' statewide association. Still, some suggestions might "pose challenges," Earley stated. For example, despite acknowledging the necessity of establishing a paper trail for such requests, he stated that removing the ability to request ballots via phone "is going to hinder a lot of voters."
In conclusion, as the state seeks to improve the security of the vote-by-mail method, Florida's mail-in voting procedures may undergo additional modifications before the presidential election in 2024. It is unknown how the proposals will affect the election and the voters, although their reception has been mixed.