Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vote by Mail Trivia

Yesterday, College Progressive posted on FLA Politics the Absentee Request Information for all 67 Counties. It sparked quite a bit of discussion about how those of us in the netroots could encourage people to vote using an absentee ballot and how we could compile this information in a format that could easily be distributed offline.

Here's an interesting piece of trivia. Did you know that Florida already has something called the Mail Ballot Election?

Title IX, Chapter 101 Sections 101.6101-101.6107 of the Florida Statutes are cited as the "Mail Ballot Election Act."

Granted its use in the state is rather limited as defined in Section 101.6102 excerpted below:

(1)(a) An election may be conducted by mail ballot if:

1. The election is a referendum election at which all or a portion of the qualified electors of one of the following subdivisions of government are the only electors eligible to vote:

a. Counties;

b. Cities;

c. School districts covering no more than one county; or

d. Special districts;

2. The governing body responsible for calling the election and the supervisor of elections responsible for the conduct of the election authorize the use of mail ballots for the election; and

3. The Secretary of State approves a written plan for the conduct of the election, which shall include a written timetable for the conduct of the election, submitted by the supervisor of elections.

(b) In addition, an annexation referendum which includes only qualified electors of one county may also be voted on by mail ballot election.

(2) The following elections may not be conducted by mail ballot:

(a) An election at which any candidate is nominated, elected, retained, or recalled; or

(b) An election held on the same date as another election, other than a mail ballot election, in which the qualified electors of that political subdivision are eligible to cast ballots.

The procedure outlined in Section 101.6103 looks pretty straightforward:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (7), the supervisor of elections shall mail all official ballots with a secrecy envelope, a return mailing envelope, and instructions sufficient to describe the voting process to each elector entitled to vote in the election not sooner than the 20th day before the election and not later than the 10th day before the date of the election. All such ballots shall be mailed by first-class mail. Ballots shall be addressed to each elector at the address appearing in the registration records and placed in an envelope which is prominently marked "Do Not Forward."

(2) Upon receipt of the ballot the elector shall mark the ballot, place it in the secrecy envelope, sign the return mailing envelope supplied with the ballot, and comply with the instructions provided with the ballot. The elector shall mail, deliver, or have delivered the marked ballot so that it reaches the supervisor of elections no later than 7 p.m. on the day of the election. The ballot must be returned in the return mailing envelope.

There were even two identical bills in the Legislature this session HB383/SB1608, both of which died in committee, to expand the provisions of the law to allow counties to conduct county elections by mail ballot:

(c) A board of county commissioners may declare that a county election shall be conducted entirely by mail ballot. The board of county commissioners shall make that declaration no later than 90 days before the date of the scheduled election.

So, on a small scale, in very specific type of elections (such as a city annexing a piece of property), Florida is already doing vote by mail.

How has in worked in practice?

Well, in terms of voter turnout the results are mixed.

A recent election in Hamilton County this past May was discouraging.

Less than a fifth of registered voters returned their mail ballots for the Economic Development Property Tax Exemption Referendum on May 29, 2007:

Total Registered Voters = 7,723
Voter Turnout Total = 1,292 (16.73%)

However, in Brevard County, an election to annex a portion of the county to the city of Melborne had better results:

Total Registered Voters 173
Total Ballots Cast 127 (73.41%)

Of course, these are two very different counties and they were voting on entirely different issues, but it does cause one to wonder what it takes to get someone to vote.

Kansasr wrote an interesting piece on FLA Politics on the Challenge of Absentee Ballots detailing examples of the numbers of people requesting absentee ballots who actually return them. It looks like roughly a quarter do not return their ballot, although a small fraction of those do end up voting at the polls instead.

This provides us with an interesting puzzle to solve that is anything but trivial.


Ray Seaman said...

Well, I guess you learn something new everyday!

Vrej said...

More Trivia for you:

HB 383 (intro'ed by a Democrat) didn't just die in committee. Its language was picked up and amended to other bills (Republican) which got close to passing. Ultimately, another elections bill (from the Senate) was passed instead. So VBM almost became a reality for Florida. The idea isn't dead; Someone in the republican leadership (Dean Cannon? He's the head honcho of the Economic Expansion & Infrastructure Council, which controls the Ethics and Elections Committee) is looking hard at vote by mail - there's a house interim project on it ( Expanding vote by mail will wipe out republican advantages in absentee voting since everyone gets a mail ballot and there is no option to vote at a polling station. But it costs less, and that seems to have caught some important Republican's attention.

The Vote by Mail post on FPC Blog advocates calling absentee voting "vote by mail." Why?

Jennifer said...

Thanks vrej! I hadn't followed the complete trail, just stumbled across those two bills which in and of themselves didn't move beyond the committee.

This whole process is an educational opportunity for me and I hope others will learn from it as well.

Gent said...

Hi, I run a blog called, "The No Vote By Mail Project". I'm all for clean, honest, verifiable elections... but coming from a state that is moving rapidly towards Vote-by Mail, we are seeing lots of problems with the system. Don't believe the hype... Vote-by Mail is not a solution to touchscreens, or anything else, it really just makes matters worse.