Amid concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the upcoming elections, many election officials across the United States -including Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley – have recommended voters take advantage of vote-by-mail or other absentee voting opportunities.
Earley said he is encouraging all voters to request vote-by-mail ballots as an “insurance policy” in the event that COVID-19 is still affecting in-person voting by November’s general election.
This approach to voting has raised concerns about security among some. These concerns vary across states since the laws are different in many states.
One of the concerns raised with the vote-by-mail or absentee voting process is called “ballot harvesting.”
According to an article in the San Diego Tribune, “ballot harvesting” refers to “a practice in which organized workers or volunteers collect absentee ballots from certain voters and drop them off at a polling place or election office.”
The issue of “ballot harvesting” became popular in California during the 2018 midterm elections. Shortly before the elections, state law regarding mail-in ballots had changed.
“In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a change to Section 3017 of the Election Code that allows any person to collect a mail-in ballot from voters and turn in the mail ballot to a polling place or the registrar’s office. Prior law restricted the practice to just relatives of or those living in the same household as the voter,” according to the article.
Some argued that “ballot harvesting” caused an influx of last-minute votes, delaying the results of the election and changing its outcome. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Republican Party chairman Fred Whitaker claimed a GOP congressional seat flipped as a direct result of ballot harvesting.
Earley said Florida law prevents “ballot harvesting” by limiting the number of ballots a person can pick up for other people.
According to the Florida Department of State, if a voter wishes to designate another person to pick up their ballot, they must authorize it in writing. Furthermore, a designee can pick up ballots for only two other voters per election besides their own and their immediate family members’ ballots.
Earley said signatures are also checked to prevent voter fraud, and he encouraged voters to update their signatures.
“As far as voter fraud goes, I think we have very good safeguards in place,” he said.
Earley said over 38,000 people in Leon County have requested vote-by-mail ballots so far. Voters can request ballots through an online request form, in person, or by email, telephone, or fax.
The deadline to request a ballot by mail is 5:00 p.m. 10 days before Election Day, but ballots can still be picked up in person until Election Day.