Want to vote by mail in Florida? Here’s what you need to know

November general election is coming up fast

FILE In this Oct. 26, 2020 file photo, an election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections, in Doral, Fla. Florida will never experience another election meltdown exactly like the one that made the state an international laughingstock in 2000, when after a five-week recount and court battle George W. Bush edged Al Gore and won the presidency. State leaders eliminated computer punchcard ballots, implemented statewide recount laws and made it easy to cast and process ballots before Election Day. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – More Floridians than ever before are voting by mail.

In 2020, more than 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail, 2 million more than the number of people who voted in 2018 and in 2016.

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While the pandemic was a factor in the number of people opting to mail in a ballot instead of showing up in person, usage of the vote-by-mail option in Florida has been growing over the past decade.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said the convenience of voting by mail is popular with Central Florida’s service industry workers.

“The vast majority of our voters do not work a traditional 40-hour work week, our voters don’t have the option to take time out on Tuesday to go to the polls,” Cowles said. “I think voters, particularly during the pandemic, learned the convenience of having that ballot mailed to them, filling it out in the privacy of their home, and returning it.”

Cowles said the big question is whether numbers will be as high for the 2022 election. Election turnout numbers, in general, tend to be lower for midterm elections to begin with. Plus, changes in Florida law may lead to extra hoops that could stop people from voting by mail.

With a general election on Nov. 8, here is what you need to know if you want to vote by mail in 2022.

How do I request a vote-by-mail ballot?

A voter can request a ballot be mailed to them by contacting their county supervisor of elections office. You can find a list of the county offices in the state on the Florida Division of Elections website.

That request can be:

  • Called in
  • Made in person at the office
  • Mailed, faxed or emailed in. If you do this, you must provide a signed request (in the case of an email, you must scan a signed letter and send it in as an attachment)

All requests must have this information:

  • Voter’s full name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • The voter’s Florida driver’s license number, identification card number, or last four digits of their social security number

In a new change by the Florida Legislature, those identification numbers are required to be on file with the county supervisor of elections office in order to get your VBM ballot request approved.

“Just over 9,000 voters in Orange County do not have those numbers on their record,” Cowles said. “That’s because at the time they registered those numbers were not required. So those people have to submit that information on a new voter registration application and submit it before we can take their submission request.”

To do that, you will need to fill out a voter registration form to update the information your county has on file, Cowles said. You can find a list of the county offices in the state on the Florida Division of Elections website.

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Do I have to request a ballot for every election?

In Florida, one vote-by-mail ballot request lasts for all elections in an election cycle (two years). So if you make a ballot request for the Aug. 23 primary, you shouldn’t have to make one for the November general election.

For voters who have been voting by mail for a while, this is a change from previous years when a ballot request would last for two federal election cycles (four years). The Florida Legislature made this change in 2021.

Not sure if you need to make a new request for a vote by mail ballot? You can go to your county’s supervisor of elections website and find out if you need a new one. You can find a list of the county offices in the state on the Florida Division of Elections website.

Can someone request a ballot for me?

Yes. An immediate family member or a legal guardian can request a ballot on a voter’s behalf.

The person requesting the ballot must include their address, driver’s license number, ID card or last four digits of their social security number, and their relationship to the voter, in addition to the voter’s information. If the request is being mailed in, the requestor must provide a signature as well.

What is the deadline to send in my ballot request?

If you have a vote-by-mail ballot, this is why it's important to get it in ASAP.

VBM ballot requests must be submitted 10 days before an election — Oct. 29 for the general election.

The elections supervisor then has two days to get the ballot out to you.

After that deadline, you can always go to the supervisor of elections office in your county, make that request in person and pick up your ballot.

However, Cowles points out if you are going to do that, you might as well just vote early, since you will be in the midst of the early voting period.

What if I make a mistake on my ballot?

If you make a mistake on your ballot, contact your county supervisor of elections office and they will send you a new ballot. You can’t fix a mistake on your ballot after you send it in, so be sure you are certain about your responses before you send return your ballot.

What is the deadline to turn in a vote by mail ballot?

All VBM ballots must be turned into your county supervisor of elections office by 7 p.m. on election day. Ballots that are postmarked on election day but not returned until after election day will not be accepted.

How do I turn in a vote by mail ballot?

There are three ways to turn in a ballot:

1. Mail it through a shipping service like the U.S. Postal Service

2. Turn it into the county supervisor of elections office in person

3. Drop it off in a secure ballot intake box during the early voting period

If you plan to mail it back to the supervisor’s office, Orange County Supervisor Bill Cowles says it’s best to get the ballot in as soon as possible.

“Let’s understand, you don’t get next-day service with the (U.S. Postal Service), and if you are mailing it, mail it sooner rather than later,” Cowles said. “If you think of it from the postal side, there is no mail on Sunday. If you send it on Saturday, there’s no guarantee it’s going to get to me on Monday or Tuesday night.”

Cowles also suggests that, if you are going to be out of state when you need to turn in your ballot, you consider using UPS or FedEx to send in your ballot to make sure it gets there on time.

Will drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots return in 2022?

In the last legislative session, the Florida Legislature replaced drop boxes with “secure ballot intake” boxes. These boxes will be available in counties during the early voting period. The boxes must be staffed.

Cowles said the boxes will be available at early voting locations during operating hours. There will also be a 24-hour depository box at the supervisor of elections office on Kaley Street.

If I mail in my ballot, do I have to pay for postage?

Many, but not all, Central Florida counties include a “return postage paid” envelope with your VBM ballot. The counties that do include:

  • Brevard
  • Lake
  • Marion
  • Orange
  • Osceola
  • Polk
  • Volusia

Flagler, Seminole and Sumter counties do not provide a return postage-paid envelope.

Why do I need to sign the return envelope for my ballot?

A signature is required on the return envelope to verify who is mailing in the ballot. The signature is matched up with the one the county supervisor of elections has in your record.

If you are worried about your signature being seen and used for identity theft as it makes its way back to the elections office, Cowles says voters can put the ballot and envelope in another envelope and mail it back that way.

But the ballot itself must be in that return envelope the elections office provides you, and that envelope must be signed.

What if my signature doesn’t match the one on file?

“As voters age, health issues, aging issues, many voters wind up printing their name, because they want us to know it’s them and can’t do the cursive,” Cowles said. “And also the younger generation not being taught cursive. So we take those things into account.”

Cowles said the staff checks every signature against the voter’s record, and if there is a discrepancy you will receive a “cure affidavit.” This gives you a chance to cure your ballot, up to two days after the election.

Cowles said the supervisor will try to contact the voter any way they can, so make sure you have contact information on file with the county election’s office. This is a good reason to get your ballot in sooner rather than later.

You can also always update the signature on file with the county elections office.

Can someone return my vote by mail ballot for me?

A voter can turn in ballots of family members and up to two ballots by people who are not family members.

This is to curb so-called “ballot harvesting.”

Cowles said while his workers may not always ask you to verify which ballots are yours and which belong to family members, he said there will likely be volunteer poll monitors out and about and watching.

How can I track my ballot and make sure it was received?

Here's how you can make sure your vote-by-mail ballot gets counted.

You can go to your county supervisor of elections website and track the status of your ballot, whether it has been returned, whether it’s been accepted, and whether there is something you have to fix.

What if I still have my vote-by-mail ballot on Election Day?

If you have not mailed out your vote-by-mail ballot yet and Election Day is just a day or two away, don’t mail out your ballot. It will not get to the county supervisor of elections office in time. It must be at the county supervisor of elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day or it will not count.

You can either hand deliver it to the elections office, or turn it over at your polling precinct on Election Day and get a regular ballot to fill out instead.

If you’re still not sure if you want to vote by mail, Cowles offers this last insider tip.

You know how in an election year your mailbox fills up with candidate ads and you start getting robocalls? It’s because political candidates know during voting when you vote, and if you request a vote by mail ballot.

“The easiest way to stop it, is to send your vote by mail ballot sooner rather than later,” Cowles said. “Because once the candidate sees that you’ve sent your ballot in, they don’t want to spend any more money on you.”

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.