Officials work to ‘cure’ mail-in ballots

by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

While voting in the 2020 election will wrap up today, there will still be some votes to tally for a couple of days. Currently, Escambia election officials — like their counterparts elsewhere — are working to make sure that every ballot that was correctly cast by mail will be counted, and they have until Thursday afternoon to complete their work.

As Escambia County Elections Supervisor David Stafford explained recently, mail ballots that raise questions are set aside and officials work to “cure” them.

“We’re looking at roughly 200 that have been set aside,” Stafford said.

Basically, a mail ballot can be set aside — not officially rejected, but pulled — for a couple of reasons. Either the ballot is missing a signature from the voter, or the signature provided doesn’t appear to match another signature from that voter on file.

“You get more that are unsigned than ones signed with a different signature,” Stafford noted.

When a ballot is set aside by the canvassing board, attempts are made to contact the voter to resolve any question about the ballot. The voter is contacted in writing by mail, but if additional contact information is available they are also contacted by phone or email. The voter is provided with an affidavit that they must sign and return to the elections office.

“There are multiple methods to return,” Stafford said, explaining that the affidavits can be returned by mail, in-person, or by email or fax.

As mail ballots have arrived at the elections office, officials have made note of which voters had their ballots pulled for curing and this information is put into a database which political parties and campaigns have access to. This means that in addition to elections officials, political operatives are also involved in making sure voters square their in-question ballot; this is especially true in a tight state like Florida where parties and candidates are scrambling for all available votes.

If neither officials or political campaigns are able to reach a voter and verify their ballot, then that ballot goes before the canvasing board, where members work to make a final determination about any signature questions.

Stafford said that the number of ballots that are typically set aside for curing in Escambia amount to less than 1 percent of the total number of ballots cast. And also that the bulk of ultimately rejected do not stem from signature irregularities, but rather because the ballots arrive after the Election Day deadline.

“There’s always a far greater number of these,” the supervisor said.

While this ballot curing process is par for the course during any election, Stafford said he knows that this year is different. Because of the pandemic and increase in the use of mail ballots, as well as questions and concerns that have been raised about the mail-ballot process, he knows that everyone is paying a lot more attention than usual on this aspect of the election.

“Absolutely,” Stafford said. “Obviously voters are keenly paying attention to this.”

While mail ballots must be received by Election Day, officials have a bit more time to address any ballots that are being cured. Those ballots must be either cured or rejected as of 5 p.m. Thursday.