Q: What are the new rules for drop boxes this year?
A: One of the biggest changes is to drop boxes, at which voters can deposit mail-in ballots at elections offices and early voting sites, many of which were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and monitored on video
The boxes were vilified in 2020 by former President Trump, who falsely claimed they were being used for fraud not in Florida but elsewhere around the country. So Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature sharply curbed their use.
The law renamed the boxes to “secure ballot intake stations.” The stations at early voting sites will only be available during early voting hours, which in some counties is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The stations, now tables instead of boxes, will be staffed by an employee at all times.
Seminole, Orange and Osceola also have them available at their elections offices and early voting sites during early voting hours.
Orange, however, has also extended its hours at its elections office at 119 W. Kaley Street in Orlando. An actual box will be available from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., and then again from 7 p.m. to midnight, fully staffed.
“My belief is that we are a service industry community,” said elections supervisor Bill Cowles. “... People who work shift work will still have a way of doing it. So we have a person sitting with the box, we have a security guy guard inside watching the box, and we have a camera on the box.”
Q: Can I still get a mail-in ballot, and how quickly should I send it in?
Yes, but there isn’t much time as the deadline is Saturday at 5 p.m. Voters can go to their county elections website to fill out the application online.
If you choose to print out a form and apply by mail, the application form must also be received at your elections office by 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Election officials recommend returning the ballot as soon as possible. Any ballot received by mail after 7 p.m. on Aug. 23 will not be counted.
Q: I signed up to vote by mail, but I would rather vote in person instead. What should I do?
Voters can bring their mail-in ballot to an early-voting location or their polling precinct on Election Day, surrender it and get a fresh ballot to use at the polling place.
Even if they don’t have it with them, they can still get their mail-in ballot canceled and vote in person.
Q: How can I make sure my vote was counted? Can I track my ballot?
A: Yes. After mailing back or dropping off mail-in ballots, voters can go online to their county elections office website and learn if their ballot was both received and accepted.
Q: Where and when can I vote early in this election?
A: Early voting began Monday in Orange and Osceola counties and lasts until Sunday, Aug. 21, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
In Lake County, early voting begins Thursday and lasts until Saturday, Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
In Seminole County, early voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 and lasts until Saturday, Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Check your county supervisor’s website for locations at www.ocfelections.com/early-voting-locations for Orange County, www.voteseminole.org/early-voting for Seminole County, www.lakevotes.com/Voter-Information/Early-Voting for Lake County, and https://www.voteosceola.com/en-us/How-to-Vote/Vote-Early for Osceola County.
Q. Why do different counties have different early voting dates and times?
Florida law sets a specific window for early voting, starting on the 10th day before a state or federal election and ending on the third day before. Seminole is strictly sticking to those parameters.
But supervisors have the discretion to add even more early voting days, beginning as early as the 15th day before an election and as late as two days before, as Orange and Osceola have done.
They also can open early voting sites for as many as 12 hours, though no Central Florida county has done so.
Seminole County elections supervisor Chris Anderson said the decision on the minimum number of days was based on past experience.
“Historically, it’s always been a low turnout for primary elections in Seminole County,” Anderson said. “If you look at the past three primaries, it’s been about an average of 25% of the voting population that actually comes out.”
Q: What races can I vote in?
Partisan primaries on Aug. 23 are closed, meaning in most cases only Democrats can vote in Democratic primaries and Republicans in Republican ones. But there are several important races that non-affiliated voters can vote in, including for judges and school board members.
The Democratic primary for the state Senate District 15 race in western Orange County is also open to all voters, as there is no GOP or independent candidate.
Q: How do I fix a mail-in ballot that gets rejected because my signature didn’t match what officials had on file? Or because I forgot to sign the envelope?
A: First, it’s best if your registration on file includes multiple ways for the elections office to contact them if their ballot has been rejected. That can include a phone number and email in addition to an address.
If notified by mail or email, the office will include a copy of the affidavit voters have to print and fill out. If notified by phone, voters can also go online to their county elections office website to find the affidavit.
Q: What do I need to do to fill out and return the affidavit and make my rejected ballot count?
After filling out the affidavit, which will include an updated version of a voters’ signature if that was the issue, they would also have to make a copy of a photo ID.
That could include a Florida driver’s license, a military, student, retirement center, neighborhood association, public assistance ID, or veteran health ID card, among others.
Voters should take the completed affidavit and the photo ID copy to their county elections office. They have until 5 p.m. on the Thursday after Election Day to drop it off.
Q: Can anyone campaign for a candidate outside or inside a polling place? Can they give water to people in line?
A: This was the most controversial proposal in the 2021 bill, which would have echoed Georgia and banned giving water or food to voters in line within 150 feet of a polling place.
But the provision was stripped from the Florida law, so there’s no specific ban against people giving food and water to people in line.
The ban on soliciting votes within 150 feet of a polling place still stands, however, and it prohibits “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter.”
Complete primary election coverage can be found at OrlandoSentinel.com/election.