Florida election: Will mail-in ballot signatures become the ‘hanging chads’ of 2020?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As the coronavirus pandemic pushes vote-by-mail to unprecedented levels, the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden could all come down to a John Hancock.

More than 30,000 Florida mail-in ballots have been flagged for signature problems so far – votes that could be thrown out if not fixed in the next few days. With more than 1.6 million mail-in ballots sent but not yet returned, that means the number of ballots that are at risk could continue to grow.

More Floridians are voting by mail than ever before. According to state officials, 4,351,724 mail ballots had been cast as of Friday. That’s compared to the 3,475,808 ballots cast at an early voting site.

More absentee ballots means more opportunities for absentee ballot mistakes.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people that forget to sign the envelope,” Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said.

A total of 815 absentee ballots have been flagged so far in Hillsborough County. Some were due to missing signatures but most were for mismatched signatures, Latimer said. That’s roughly .3% of the 300,000+ Hillsborough mail-in ballots received.

8 On Your Side found similar percentages for deficient mail-in ballots received in Pinellas and Polk counties.

Latimer explains that when a ballot is flagged for a bad signature, it’s because it’s vastly different from what they have on file. But he says even that is not indicative of voter fraud, something his office has seen little to no evidence of.

“We pre-register 16 and 17-year-olds in high school,” Latimer explained. “When they’re 16-17, they’ve got this nice little curly handwriting, and then when they become an adult, their signature is two circles with a line through it.”

Some voters, like Tal McElreath of Tampa, have never voted by mail and say they don’t plan to start now.

“I just don’t want to put it in the mailbox,” he told 8 On Your Side. “I just feel better doing it in person.”

If there’s something wrong with your ballot, you will be notified. To fix it, voters have until two days after Election Day to sign an affidavit and provide identification.

Roughly 1,200 rejectable ballots in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk combined have yet to be fixed, according to elections officials. Those numbers may seem inconsequential until you look back to the 2000 Florida recount.

“Every vote counts, that’s for sure,” Latimer said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

It is too late to mail your absentee ballot to ensure it arrives on time. However, mail-in ballots can be dropped off at early voting sites through Sunday and at county elections offices until 7 p.m. on Election Day.

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