Once upon a time, no-excuse Vote-By-Mail (VBM) did not exist and neither did Early Voting. We only voted on Election Day, meaning there was only one place where you could vote (your precinct), and there was someone there to guide you through the process. VBM has made it easier in some ways, but harder in other ways.
With VBM, there is no one present to make sure you are following the voting process correctly. It is up to you to read and follow the directions! Our ballots are printed in 3 languages – English, Spanish and Creole. Take your time. This is one of the advantages of voting at home. You have time to do your research on the candidates and the issues. There is no one pressuring you to hurry up because the line is long.
By Oct. 1, over 500,000 VBM ballots were mailed out to the registered Broward County voters who had requested them. You can still request a VBM ballot. Go to www.browardsoe.org or call (954) 357-7055. The last date you can request a VBM ballot to be mailed to you is Saturday, October 24 at 5 pm. However, if you wait until the last minute to request a VBM ballot, please do not return by mail. Use one of the other drop-off methods described below.
If you requested a VBM ballot but change your mind and decide to vote in person, either during the early voting period or on Election Day, you can do that! Just go to the polls and vote! While not required, it is helpful to the poll workers if you bring your VBM ballot with you to the polls.
Below is a check-off list for you to follow with your VBM ballot.
*If there are multiple VBM ballots coming to your home, keep them separate. Each one has a bar code that is unique to each person. A common problem is for partners to mix up their ballots and then sign the wrong envelopes. If your ballot arrives damaged (or the dog eats it), call the SOE office at 954-357-7055 and request a new one.
*Fill in the ovals completely with a black ball point pen. Do not place a check mark or an “X” in the oval. Do not use a Sharpie marker, as it will bleed through to the other side. Keep the ballot clean – no spills, no drips, no messes.
*If you make a mistake on the ballot (vote for someone you did not intend to vote for), call the SOE office at 954-357-7055 and request a new ballot. You are allowed up to 3 ballots to get it right. ONLY one ballot will be counted per person, whether you vote by mail, early voting or on Election Day!
*Vote on both sides of the ballot pages. The number of pages you receive will depend on the city in which you live, as some cities have additional items to vote on.
*Place the voted ballot in the privacy sleeve. This looks like a thin paper folder but has lots of writing on it.
*Place the privacy sleeve, with the voted ballot, into the return envelope. This envelope is already addressed to the Supervisor of Elections office and already has the proper postage! Seal the envelope.
*On the back side of the envelope (opposite side from the address label), there is a box outlined in red. This is where you sign the envelope and date it. You are affirming that you are who you say you are. Remember, you are not voting in person where the poll worker can compare a photo ID with the person standing in front of them! Do not remember what signature you used when you registered to vote? Refer to your Florida driver’s license or Florida ID card and use that as your signature. The primary reason VBM ballots are rejected by the SOE is because the return envelope is NOT signed!!!
It is also helpful to add your email address and phone numbers where indicated on the outside of the return envelope. This way if there is a problem with your ballot (perhaps your signature) they have additional ways to contact you besides the mail. No one sees this information except the U.S. Postal Service and SOE employees. The SOE will do everything possible to contact you if there is a problem with your signature, so that you can correct the problem. But, you must respond to them. They will not come to you.
*Last, but not least, the voted ballot inside the signed and sealed return envelope must be returned to the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) offices. No matter which method you use, the return envelope with ballot MUST be received by the SOE offices by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. Postmarks do not count! Dropping off the ballot at midnight on Nov. 3 does not count. VBM ballots that arrive after 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 at the SOE office are not opened, and therefore, they are not counted in the election. There are three ways to return your ballot.
*You can mail it. Postage is prepaid. Mail it from your home or drop off at any post office. Most post offices have outside boxes where you can drive up and deposit our mail. However, the last date the League suggests for mailing your ballot is Oct. 19. After that date, drop it off at the SOE offices or use Early Voting site drop off boxes.
*You can drop it off at the two SOE offices. Each one has a drop off box that is secure and accessible 24/7 from now until November 3 at 7 pm. Neither are drive through accessible. You will have to exit your car to drop off your ballot, but it will only require a few steps.
*You can drop it off at any of the 22 Early Voting locations during the early voting period: Oct. 19 through Nov.1 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You CANNOT drop off a VBM ballot at any early voting locations or any precinct (polling place) on Election Day! Early Voting sites.
*Track your ballot. You can track your ballot in four easy steps: 1) Go to browardsoe.org. 2) Click on “Check Your Voter Status/Update.” 3) Fill-in the requested information. 4) Scroll down to “2020 General Election.”
Linda M. Thigpen is a guest columnist of the Westside Gazette presenting election tips for the upcoming elections. She is also a Board Member of the Broward County League of Women Voters and Pembroke Pines Precinct Committeewoman of the Broward County Democratic Party Executive Committee. Contact her at Lindathigp@aol.com or (305) 804 7195.