Duval County’s Supervisor of Elections is warning voters to be careful when voting by mail to make sure their ballots are counted as he gets ready to send out 138,000 ballots by mail on Thursday, Sept. 24. Military and overseas ballots were mailed on Sept. 19.
Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan expects the vote-by-mail total to surpass 150,000 over the next few weeks.
For comparison, in the 2020 primary a total of 113,000 vote-by-mail ballots were sent out, 92,000 were sent out to residents ahead of the 2018 general election, and in the 2016 general election, the most recent presidential election, 103,000 vote-by-mail ballots were distributed throughout Jacksonville.
Those who sign up to receive vote-by-mail ballots in Duval County can opt to receive them through the next two general elections, at most. When that request expires, the Supervisor of Elections sends out a card to notify the voter.
The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the upcoming general election is October 24. All vote-by-mail ballots must be in the hands of the Supervisor of Elections staff by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
In addition to mailing ballots, voters can drop their ballots off at the Supervisor of Elections Downtown office at 105 E. Monroe St., which has a 24-hour drop box, until Election Day. The county will also have 20 early voting sites for the general election, and each of them will have drop boxes.
Hogan said the Jacksonville Jaguars are also partnering with the Supervisor of Elections Office in November to establish a drive-thru drop-off location during the last week of early voting.
“For that whole week, Monday through Sunday, we will have a drive-thru. And I think it's going to be lined up in parking Lot C. We'll have some Jaguars players and personnel with us and people will be able to drive up and drop their ballots off at those drop boxes," he said.
Hogan warned that voters need to be careful when voting by mail to make sure that their ballot is counted. One of the most common issues are signatures that don’t match what the Supervisor of Elections Office has on record, he said. This frequently happens when people sign the wrong ballots.
“A lot of the ballots are going to households,” Hogan said. “Make sure that you're signing your ballot, not your wife’s or your son’s, because that's a mismatched signature. "
If the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot doesn’t match the one on record, the Supervisor of Elections Office will use the given email address or phone number to contact the voter and give them a chance to “cure” the ballot. If there is no phone number or email address on record, the Supervisor of Elections Office will have to send the voter a letter notifying them of the issue.
Another common issue, Hogan said, is that voters use writing utensils other than a black pen (like blue pens or pencils) or they mark the ballots with checks or “X” marks. When ballots have these issues, the tabulators won’t be able to read them.
“That means that we have to duplicate that ballot. Now we do that in the public eye and the canvassing board is responsible for that, ultimately, so everything is above board. But it's just a lot of work to start redoing ballots,” Hogan explained.
For these reasons, Hogan advises voters to mail their ballots in as soon as possible.
“We always suggest, get it [the ballot] right back in the first week that you receive it. Then if anything happens, you've got time to correct your errors,” he said. “The biggest point that I can emphasize is to read the instructions and follow them explicitly."
This recommendation has nothing to do with how long it takes for ballots to arrive. According to Hogan, ballots are usually received at the Supervisor of Elections Office within a couple of days.
“When I was working in the primary, it was on August 15, I was opening mail ballots and I was paying particular attention to the postmark on the ballot I was opening,” Hogan said. “The postmarks of the majority of the ones that I picked up were either the 14th or the 13th. So they're getting back to us very quickly.”
Voters can always check their voter status at the Supervisor of Elections Office website. This will tell them if they have requested a vote-by-mail ballot for the upcoming election, if their ballot has been received, and if there is an issue with their ballot.
If there is an issue or the vote-by-mail ballot hasn’t been received come election day, people can vote in person. Once a vote-by-mail ballot has been received and tabulated, however, individuals will not be able to vote in person.
The Supervisor of Elections Office processes vote-by-mail ballots as they come in, but tabulation doesn’t begin until the second day of early voting.
“The primary reason for that is the folks that handle all the tabulating equipment for the mail in ballots are setting up all the early voting sites and having to work with the early voting sites,” Hogan explained. “But once early voting gets started and everything is up and clean, then we can pull off and they can start tabulating. And those are the first numbers we give on election evening, after the polls close at seven.”
The Supervisor of Elections Office has sent out about 264,000 mailers to households encouraging people to vote-by-mail, largely to protect voters and poll workers from the coronavirus.