ANOTHER VIEW: Take advantage of early voting options
Voters should cast their ballots early in this fall’s election and, if they’re voting by mail, be vigilant in making sure those ballots are counted.
Early voting sites open today in Florida. In Bay County, a vote-by-mail box is at the Supervisor of Elections office at 830 W. 11th St., and beginning Oct. 24 drop boxes will be located at each of the county's 14 Super Voting Sites. In Okaloosa County drop boxes are available at the County Administration Building, the Crestview Community Center, the Destin Community Center and the Niceville Community Center.
Some voters haven't wanted to have their voices heard. In Bay County there already is an early 14 percent voter turnout by virtue of 17,303 vote-by-mail ballots that have been received. In Okaloosa County, there is already a nearly 19 percent voter turnout with 7,244 early votes and 21,156 vote-by-mail ballots.
But more are out there and the sooner they arrive, the more time that voters have to correct any mistakes that would prevent their ballots from being counted.
Research has found that voters who are casting their ballots by mail for the first time are twice as likely than experienced mail-in voters to make such a mistake, said Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor and nationally recognized expert on voting.
A common problem is that voters fail to sign the envelope that comes with their ballots, which is required by law before they can be counted. That signature must also match the one on file with the Supervisor of Elections Office.
The supervisor of elections recommends that voters put a phone number or email address along with their signature on the envelope so they can be easily contacted in case of problems. Bay voters can track their ballot online at www.bayvotes.org and find other vote-by-mail information there. Okaloosa voters can do the same at https://www.govote-okaloosa.com/Voters/Voter-Lookup-Tool.
Another problem that leads to votes going uncounted is ballots arriving too late. State law requires mailed ballots to arrive at the supervisor of elections’ office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. The office recommends mailing them at least a week before.
Voters who haven’t yet cast a ballot can do so at any early voting site, but those who wait until Election Day, Nov. 3, must vote at their designated precinct.
Once voters choose the best option for them, the only thing left to do is getting informed about everything on the ballot. The Sun has run news articles and opinion pieces over the past few weeks on the candidates and issues on the local ballot — visit http://bit.ly/sun2020votersguide for links to those pieces.
Don’t wait to vote. Mail-voters should return their ballots soon and make sure their ballots are counted, while early voters should pick a location and time that works for them. There is no reason to wait until Election Day to make your voice heard.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Gainesville Sun