Overcoming new vote-by-mail obstacles in Florida | Editorial

Voting by mail used to be very convenient in Florida. Your ballot arrives in your mailbox. You can study candidates and ballot questions at your leisure and make more informed choices. Return postage is prepaid, so it won’t cost you a dime.

Voting by mail was simply too convenient, in the opinion of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in the Florida Legislature, so they created new obstacles to make it harder for people to vote that way.

These new obstacles are calculated to discourage people from voting by mail in the presidential election in 2024, and it’s no coincidence that the rules target a method of voting that Democrats prefer more than Republicans.

In case you forgot (and the politicians in control hope that you have), a recent change in state law wiped away every voter’s old request for a mail ballot.

Under the old law, a mail ballot was valid through two election cycles, and the ballot you received included a handy box you could check to continue receiving mail ballots. The new law eliminated the box on the ballot envelope, and greatly reduced the use of drop boxes, too.

It was just too darn convenient.

The new law meant that millions of standing requests for mail ballots disappeared after the 2022 election, forcing all of those voters to submit new requests.

If you want to vote by mail in 2024, you have to submit a new request. It’s easy: You can do it online or by phone, but if you don’t do it, the mail ballot you may be expecting will never arrive in your mailbox.

You will need your driver license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number (whichever is on file from when you registered to vote). The instructions are explained clearly on county elections websites.

The most popular method

Casting a mail ballot, or what used to be known as an absentee ballot, gained wide popularity in Florida during the pandemic. According to the state Division of Elections, voting by mail was by far the most popular method in last year’s midterm election, as nearly 2.8 million people voted by mail out of a statewide turnout of 7.8 million.

Moreover, voting by mail has been more popular with Democrats than Republicans, so it was inevitable that Republicans would take steps to make it more difficult, which is exactly what they did.

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 90 in the 2021 session, and DeSantis signed it on live TV (on Fox, naturally) at a closed-door event with GOP supporters at a West Palm Beach hotel. Only Fox was allowed inside to record the signing of the bill, which the governor called an “election integrity” measure, despite little or no evidence of voter fraud in Florida.

Fast forward more than two years later, and county election supervisors are reaching out to voters and reminding them to renew their vote-by-mail requests, with varying degrees of success.

The number of vote-by-mail requests that expired is in the millions. In Broward alone, election staffers said, the new law wiped away a total of 428,885 mail ballot requests from 2020 alone, or nearly one-third of the county’s entire pool of voters.

Democratic Party volunteers in Broward and Palm Beach counties have been contacting voters whose requests expired, reminding them to “re-up” for 2024.

A mighty challenge

In the Palm Beach party’s July newsletter, Chairman Mindy Koch said: “We are making sure to reach the almost 200,000 Dems who lost their vote by mail.”

That number, and others, reflects the magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead.

Take Palm Beach, for instance. Supervisor Wendy Link told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board that about 357,000 voters requested mail ballots for the 2022 general election, all of which expired.

As of Friday, she said, about 105,000 voters have requested mail ballots for the presidential preference primary next March 19. Palm Beach County sent postcards to every voter who voted by mail in 2020 and 2022, and the elections office issues frequent, colorful reminders on social media channels.

When Broward Supervisor Joe Scott presented his budget requests to county commissioners in May, he was told to spend more money on outreach to all those voters who were stripped of their mail ballot requests.

“I want to see way more outreach,” Commissioner Beam Furr told Scott. “Everybody in this county is losing their vote-by-mail status.”

Scott said a major blitz will begin next week with mailers, emails, text messages and phone calls. He said his goal is to restore one-half of the mail ballot requests from the past two election cycles.

That would be an improvement, but it’s a costly and unnecessary campaign to combat voter suppression, and the solution is obvious: Make sure you vote, and don’t let anything stand in your way.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.