Amid COVID-19 concerns, a University of Florida survey reports 60% of those questioned are considering voting by mail in the upcoming general election. While stories abound about the potential for votes being delayed by a deluge of ballots at the last minute amid cutbacks in the U.S. Postal Service, there is another sticking point with the potential to disenfranchise voters – signature verification.
In Florida, ballots had to arrive at the county Supervisor of Elections office by Aug. 18. The signature on the ballot is compared with the one on file at the Supervisor’s office and – if there seems to be a discrepancy or there is no signature on the ballot – it is sidetracked into the “curing” process.
While the process is designed to catch people who might be attempting to cheat the system, it can also mean legitimate votes are being flagged and not counted.
If the ballot is received early enough, the Supervisor can contact the voter, who can then sign and return an affidavit and the vote will be counted. However, in a time crunch or if the voter doesn’t take the required verification steps, their ballot won’t count.
It happened to Troy Fitzhand’s nonagenarian grandmother in Florida. “She forgot to sign, and she had to go through the cure process. It was just too tedious of a process for her … so she’s one of those people who didn’t have a vote counted.”
Unlike most of us, Fitzhand and his two brothers are trying to do something about it. The trio of twentysomethings is rolling out their new tech company, Ballot, in time for the General Election in November. Their software cuts out humans by comparing signatures electronically.
“The heart of our mission is to both help counties process elections, but also to ensure every legitimate vote is counted and has the ability to be counted,” Fitzhand said.
And while there’s a new focus on signature verification, there’s also been a lot said about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle a crush of mail-in ballots. However, a study shows the post office has “plenty of physical capacity” to do the job.
However, if new cost-cutting Postal Service policies put in place by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continue to slow mail delivery, the report’s conclusions may become moot. But author Nick Zaiac, an associate fellow at the center-right R Street Institute, contends that even if COVID-19 is still a crisis during the early-voting season, the post office is capable of answering the challenge.
“They have plenty of physical capacity. They have lots of experience with moving mail through all kinds of disasters and with all kinds of staffing shortages,” he said. “These ballots can pretty much just be normal mail and, assuming it gets into the system in time, and people put it in the mail in time to get to be returned, its infrastructure should be adequate to handle this election in a timely and generally successful fashion.
Florida is one of the states with “a fairly short lag between when ballots arrive and when they need to be back to the Postal Service, Zaiac reported. His advice is to request a ballot early, then fill it out and mail it back immediately. Better yet, he recommends, hand-deliver it to the election supervisor’s office or leave it in a dropbox at an early voting site.
“[Fewer] steps between you and your town clerk or county clerk or board of elections is good. And less physical buildings it has to move into and out of and vehicles it has to move into and out of are good,” he said.
A University of Florida poll of 11,000 registered voters conducted in July found that just over 60% of all respondents said they intend to vote by mail in the General Election, with about 14% saying they would vote early in person and nearly 19% waiting until Election Day.
Regarding rumblings about the government defunding the Postal Service, Zaiac said there’s not much to defund.
“The Postal Service largely is a self-financing agency. They do borrow from the Treasury,” he explained. “But the only real tool outside federal officials have beyond law is attaching conditions on these Treasury loans to the Postal Service. The Postal Service does lose money, but they have plenty of cash on hand to go well into 2021, so they can make it through the election.”