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Lee Elections: Vote-by-mail is secure

By Staff | May 28, 2020

With a presidential election on the horizon amidst a global pandemic, Lee County voters should feel confident their vote-by-mail ballots will be safely vetted and tallied, Lee Elections officials said Thursday.

The ability of residents to vote from the safety of their homes to avoid gatherings of large people, such as a polling location, is paramount this fall and Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle assures voters here those ballots will be counted.

“Voting by mail works out good for us in trying to limit the size of people showing up in person,” Doyle said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think it’s going to be very important coming up, especially in the General Election, to try to limit the crowds showing up at the polls. I think (vote-by-mail) is the safest way to vote. Stay safe, vote from home — that’s what we want to say.”

Vote-by-mail has become embroiled in controversy with some, from the president down, questioning the process.

President Trump on Tuesday took to Twitter to voice his angst with the vote-by-mail process.

“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” Trump Tweeted. “Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”

In Lee County, where the process has become the method of choice for voters across party lines, those casting a ballot can continue to feel comfortable with their mailed-in votes, Doyle said.

Lee County registered voters have the ability to track their mail-in ballots and the office has practices in place to watch for potential fraud.

His office has not seen any attempts of blatant fraud; such as casting a vote for a passed away relative, family member, or someone who just wasn’t who they said they were.

“We haven’t seen any cases of that at all,” Doyle said. “There’s no evidence that it helps either party. Democrat or Republican, vote-by-mail doesn’t help any party. There is no evidence of massive fraud in vote-by-mail. Is there fraud? There’s fraud in everything, but there’s not massive fraud, there’s not fraud that would change an election. In order to create fraud to change an election in Florida, I’d have to be collaborating with all 67 counties. That’s how extensive it would have to be.”

Doyle said the first thing the Elections Office does when they receive a vote-by-mail ballot is to check the signature for verification.

In Lee County, registered voters need to request a vote-by-mail ballot to receive one. Those ballots are tracked, and each voter has a signature on file in which the office compares the mailed-in ballot to.

“If you ever check signatures on vote-by-mail, it’s pretty obvious if there is a mismatch,” Doyle said.

If the office finds the signature does not adequately compare to what they have on file for the voter, that individual is contacted immediately by the Elections Office to inquire about the ballot.

If a voter did, in fact, cast that ballot, but for some reason the signatures did not add up, the office is able to remedy the situation and verify the vote via what’s called a Cure Affidavit and a copy of a “tier 1” identification. The signature is then updated in their file.

Doyle said some voters do have multiple signatures on file, as they do not always sign their name the same way.

Voters have two days after the election to “cure” the mismatched signatures. If they do not, that ballot is marked as “rejected” and is not cast.

Doyle said this circumstance does not happen often.

“Our rejection rate is probably 1 percent or less,” he said.

Vote-by-mail has been an option for residents in Lee County for nearly two decades.

Ballots are not allowed to be forwarded to a second address; they are returned to the office if there is a forwarding address on a residence.

Doyle said that 51 percent of registered voters in the county cast their vote via mail.

In the recent presidential primary, just as the country was starting to see a rise in coronavirus cases, 80 percent of voters in the county voted by mail.

Doyle said in 2018, there were roughly 200,000 requests for vote-by-mail ballots in the county, or what amounts to more than 40 percent of registered voters.

Voters have 10 days before the election to receive their mailed ballot.

If residents are worried about mailing their ballot back to the Elections Office, but do not want to vote in a crowd, they can take their completed mail ballot and drop it off at the office or other polling locations.

“I’ve been encouraging people to vote-by-mail since I was elected into office,” Doyle said. “It’s convenient. It’s safe. You never know what life is going to bring – look at this pandemic. And in 2017 we had Hurricane Irma that affected voting, too. You never know.”

If you do request a vote-by-mail ballot, you can still vote in person.

Doyle said if a resident would attempt to vote-by-mail, and in person, that only one vote would count.

“You’re not going to be able to vote twice,” Doyle said. “You can’t vote-by-mail and then go to the polls, because we’re going to know how you voted and if you already voted.”

Doyle and his staff are taking extra precautions this fall with elections coming up to properly sanitize polling locations.

They will clean every booth after a resident casts their vote, including every pen, screen and surface.

“We’re taking every precaution, but that’s why we want to get people to vote-by-mail, so that we don’t have (groups) of people. We’re also going to do the six-foot distancing and requesting voters to wear masks. All of the poll workers will be wearing masks. If you vote by mail, we won’t even have to worry about it.”

Doyle in concerned with the number of poll workers they will be able to staff, as most are older in age and in the most “at-risk” group.

Doyle, along with other supervisors of elections, are attempting to work with Gov. Ron DeSantis and are requesting more flexibility to maintain a safe and secure voting practices.

They are asking to allow for a longer early voting period and to extend early voting to Election Day.

“That way, we hopefully keep the number of people at a polling location down and more safe,” Doyle said.

To request a vote-by-mail ballot, visit www.lee.vote.

Once submitted, you can track your mail-in ballot at www.lee.vote/Admin/Check-my-Registration-Status .

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj