Tucked into HB 131, the wide-ranging election reform legislation which, among other things, regulates online political advertising, as well as the electioneering activities of ‘527’s’, is a provision that moves up the date of when each county’s Supervisor of Elections is required to mail ballots to “early voters,” such as military and overseas voters. Currently, the law requires Supervisors of Elections to mail ballots no later than 35 days before an election. HB 131 changes that requirement to “no later than 45 days before each election.”
Since the law is effective immediately upon being signed by the Governor, HB 131 goes into effect this year, meaning absentee ballots need to be mailed 45 days before August 24. By that timetable, the ballots will be flying as early as the week of July 4th!
In my home-county of Pinellas, the Supervisor of Elections, Deborah Clark, historically has mailed out absentee ballots as early as legally possible — and not just to military and overseas voters. As St. Petersburg Times editor Diane Steinle noted:
Pinellas residents who voted at the polls in the November 2008 election were asked by poll workers if they would like to receive a mail ballot for future elections. Those who said yes — and there were thousands of them — received a ballot for the March 10 election in their mailboxes in mid-January. Add in the voters who requested a mail ballot by contacting the Supervisor of Elections Office, and the result was an army of mail voters able to overwhelm the number of people voting at polling places.
So in Pinellas, and in many other counties in Florida, all those who are on the so-called permanent list of absentee ballot requesters will receive their ballot only a day or two after they finish eating their leftovers from their Fourth of July barbecue.
In case you hadn’t noticed, July is now only one month away.