Guest commentary: Jennifer J. Edwards, Facts about absentee and provisional voting

Jennifer Edwards 
 Supervisor Of Elections

Jennifer Edwards Supervisor Of Elections

Jennifer J. Edwards Marco Island

Collier County Supervisor of Elections

A few common misperceptions about absentee and provisional voting have the potential to bewilder many voters. To help clear up these myths, let me provide a few facts that can ease the confusion, especially for the new and infrequent voters participating in this year's general election.

Absentee voting

Every valid absentee ballot will be counted, and in the last presidential election over 98 percent of absentee ballots were deemed valid. Rejected absentee ballots have a common theme: lack of a signature or a non-matching signature. For their ballot to be considered for acceptance, eligible voters must use the official, white ballot return envelope and personally sign where indicated on the outside of the envelope. The signature on the envelope must match the voter's signature of record. No other person can sign for the voter, regardless of power of attorney or guardianship. If a voter thinks his or her signature may have changed since registering to vote, he or she should update their signature with the elections office by completing a voter registration application.

The county canvassing board, which consists of the Supervisor of Elections, a judge and a representative of the county, reviews all questionable absentee ballot envelopes in a public meeting to determine acceptance or rejection. The secrecy of the votes is maintained during this process, voters' names are not read aloud, and only legal matters are considered. The elections office mails a letter to each voter whose absentee ballot is rejected indicating the reason.

Voters can also track their absentee ballot online at the CollierVotes.com "Am I Registered" web page. If a voter believes he or she was a victim of fraud, and their absentee ballot was rejected, the voter has the option to vote a provisional ballot during early voting or on Election Day and to provide evidence of that fraud to the canvassing board.

Provisional voting

A provisional ballot is an alternative voting method for a voter whose eligibility is in question or cannot be verified. Provisional ballots help protect against voter fraud and are counted if they are deemed valid by the county canvassing board in a public meeting. One of the most common reasons voters must vote a provisional ballot is not providing proper identification at the polls. Additionally, starting with the 2012 General Election, civilian voters who have moved to Collier from another Florida county but did not update their address prior to voting must vote a provisional ballot.

The secrecy of votes is protected during the canvassing board's review of provisional ballots and only legal requirements for voting are examined. For example, a voter must be in his or her assigned precinct for their provisional ballot to be considered (or, during early voting, must vote the proper ballot for their precinct).

Voters who forget their ID do not need to provide evidence of their eligibility to the canvassing board, as the signature on the affirmation they sign at the polls will be compared to their signature on record with the elections office. Voters who vote provisional for other reasons should provide evidence to the canvassing board no later than 5 p.m. two days after the election to support the validity of the provisional ballot.

Within 30 days of Election Day the elections office will notify all persons who voted via provisional ballot whether their ballot was or was not deemed valid.

Ideally, we'd like all voters to experience a hassle-free voting process. However, with the high turnout expected, we recommend voters verify their registration at the CollierVotes.com "Am I Registered" web page to ensure their information is up to date and save time at the polls. And, don't forget to take proper photo and signature identification to the polls (listed on our website).

However you choose to vote, we encourage all voters to, simply, make their voice heard this election. For more information, visit www.CollierVotes.com or call the Elections office at (239) 252-8450. You can also find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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