HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Election season is upon us – but the pandemic is changing how people are voting.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said the county began sending out 290,000 mail-in ballots on Thursday.
“Largest amount we’ve ever sent out,” said Latimer. “So we’re really excited about it. We’ve ramped up. We’ve got the equipment to do this.”
Latimer said typically 1/3 of Hillsborough voters cast ballots by mail in recent Florida elections.
But in March, as the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to spread across Florida and the U.S., that percentage jumped to 54%. Voter turnout was down more than 25% compared to the 2016 presidential preference primary.
Five months later into the pandemic, Latimer is expecting vote by mail to be even more popular than usual. He and other elections supervisors across the state have been pushing mail voting as the safer and quicker option.
“In-person voting is gonna be slower,” Latimer said. “We’re gonna be social distancing, we’re gonna make sure we don’t have too many people in the polling site at one time. You’re gonna see that line you’ve been standing behind at the grocery store.”
President Donald Trump voted by mail in Florida, despite claiming multiple times it is a “scam” and “increases the risk of crime.”
“There is tremendous evidence of fraud whenever you have mail-in ballots,” Trump said at a rally last month in Phoenix.
In fact, there is little evidence to support the president’s claim.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, lists 5 cases in Florida in the last 5 years in its Election Fraud Cases database – and not all of them resulted or would have resulted in fraudulent votes being counted.
A Washington Post investigation found 16 Trump officials voted by mail, including the president, Vice President Mike Pence, and Tampa native Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secretary.
“[President Trump] supports mail-in voting for a reason, when you have a reason that you are unable to be present,” said McEnany.
Latimer, who is also president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, said voters don’t need a reason.
“We’ve had no-excuse vote by mail in Florida since 2002,” said Latimer. “So this isn’t new to us. What’s new to us is a little more volume.”
Latimer also said there are safeguards against fraudulent mail voting.
“Only a registered voter can request a vote-by-mail ballot,” said Latimer. “We don’t just send them out willy nilly. When you get that ballot, you’re gonna have to sign the oath on the back. That signature is compared to the signature that we have on file already. There’s a process where you can remedy that…but it’s not going to be counted until we get that voter’s signature on that oath and that ballot.”
Florida’s primary is Tuesday, August 18. Voters must register to vote by July 20 to be eligible.
Once voters are registered, they have until August 8 to request a mail ballot if they choose.
Watch 8 On Your Side’s weekly political show Battleground Florida with host Evan Donovan every Sunday morning at 9:30, right before Meet the Press.