The requests for absentee ballots keep pouring in and elections officials across the state are scurrying to keep up with growing demand.
But in a year where everyone from campaign managers to supervisors of elections are urging voters to vote from the comfort of their homes, one Southwest Florida elections official is telling voters her office may not be able to guarantee the ballots will get to their destination in time.
Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said more than 92,400 absentee ballots have been requested. More than 34,000 of those ballots, Harrington said, already have been returned.
Harrington said she expects dozens of more requests to arrive in the coming days, but said she's actively encouraging people who can pick up their ballots, instead of depending on the postal service.
"We're telling people that we can't guarantee delivery (in time)," she said. "We have a 24- to 48-hour ballot turnaround ... but once it hits the mail system, it's 10 days."
Voters then need to fill out their ballot, sign the back and mail it back to their local elections office. The ballots, Harrington said, need to be in the hands of an election official by 7 p.m. Nov. 6 — Election Day.
Harrington said she's telling voters to drop off their absentee ballots in person, or overnight their ballot, to make sure their vote is counted.
Tim Durham, the deputy supervisor of elections for Collier County, said the local election experts aren't concerned yet that ballots won't make it to voters in time. But he too is warning voters that if they wait too long to request their ballot, they may be pushing their luck.
"The bottom line is there is always a little bit of an element that the longer wait, the more you put yourself at risk of not receiving your ballot," Durham said.
More than 52,000 absentee ballots have been requested, and Durham said more than 26,000 of those have already been returned.
Elsewhere in Florida and throughout the U.S., printing errors have caused problems on thousands of absentee ballots, from Cleveland to Daytona Beach to Kalamazoo, Mich. While in most cases corrected ballots are simply mailed as replacements, in some places it was too late to catch mistaken ballots before voters returned them.
Not to worry, said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.
"It's not rocket science. We duplicate ballots all the time," Bucher said. "It's a real simple procedure. But this year it's a presidential year and I do understand the cause for concern."
In Southwest Florida, lengthy ballots — three pages, front and back, in Collier and four pages, front and back, in Lee — are the reason for the high demand. But with high demand, election officials said, comes some problems.
Lee County officials said about 150 people got two copies of their absentee ballots because of a vendor issue. The vendor, Harrington said, processed a batch twice, causing the double mailing.
Those voters' ballots, though, will only be counted once.
There's also been issues with the postal service. Harrington said she tracked one ballot — being mailed to voters living in Lee County — to Mobile, Ala., before it returned to Fort Myers seven days later.
Long mailing times aren't the only concern, though. Durham said his office received a ballot addressed to the Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections and Lee County has received several ballots meant for Durham's office.
"It must be like Christmas for them in a sense with the volume (of mail) they're dealing with," Durham said. "I know they're working very hard, this is the a peak time in the country. It's hard to mail that many pieces and get everything absolutely perfect."
Durham said election officials plan to "work hard to get redirected ballots to the right place," and encouraged voters to make sure to get their ballot to election officials as soon as possible.
"It's not good for voters to wait a long time," he said. "There's a little bit of an element of uncertainty (the longer they wait)."
The final day to request a ballot by mail is Wednesday.
The rise in popularity of mail-in absentee voting around the country also increases the risk of mistakes, lost votes and even fraud, according to election experts and researchers. A recent study by the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project of California absentee votes over two decades found that they are twice as prone not to be counted as votes cast on more modern voting machines.
The study estimated that in 2008 as many as 21 percent of absentee ballots requested nationwide never made it back to elections officials to be counted. Although that number may be inflated and could include people who simply decided not to vote absentee after all, study co-author Charles Stewart III of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it still raises a red flag.
"We have possibly gotten way ahead of ourselves in encouraging people to vote by mail," said Stewart, a political science professor. "It's pretty clear that the improvement we've gotten by having better voting machines in the precincts may be given back by having more and more people voting at home."
This article contains material from the Associated Press.