By Deborah Cupples

(based on  version printed in South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Don’t take your voting rights for granted because errors could stop any of us from successfully voting in November, even if we voted in the primaries.

Below are five ways to help protect your voting rights, along with some how’s and why’s:

(1) If you already registered to vote, double-check your status with your county election office well before Oct. 9.

(2) If it’s your first time, register through your county election office well before Oct. 9.

(3) If you vote by mail, be proactive and follow up because it’s risky.

(4) Update your contact info with your county election office.

(5) Check your polling place location before voting.

Registration issues

Oct. 9 is the deadline to be registered to vote in this November’s election, per Florida law. That’s why you should double-check your registration status well before Oct. 9.

If you’ve been mistakenly removed (“purged”) from the voter rolls, checking early would give you more time to re-register, which you would need to do to vote in November.

If you’re not registered yet, register through your county election office, well before Oct. 9, because processing registration forms can take some days.

Photograph any computer screen or paper containing your registration information for your records.

I suggest dealing with your county election office (instead of the state office) because county offices work more directly with county voter rolls. Find your county office by Googling “Election Supervisor” + your county + “Florida.”

Why the need to be proactive? Because for years Florida’s voter-purging process has been error-prone. For details, Google the terms “Florida voter purge errors.”

Since Election 2000, thousands of eligible voters have been mistakenly purged from Florida’s voter rolls and didn’t find out until Election Day.

Too late. They weren’t registered anymore, and the deadline to re-register was 29 days before the election.

Election offices may send notice to voters who are flagged for purging. What if you were flagged and the notice went to the wrong address? What if the notice were thrown away with junk mail?

You would probably be purged and wouldn’t find out until you tried to vote.

Why risk losing the right to vote, when it’s so easy to check your registration well before Oct. 9?

Voting by Mail

When you vote by mail, your ballot signature is checked against your signature on file. If the signatures don’t match, your ballot could be rejected.

Signatures change over time. Mine is different when I sign quickly.

A study of Florida’s vote-by-mail ballots (2016 and 2012) by political scientist Daniel Smith and the ACLU found–

  1. Higher  rejection rate for vote-by-mail ballots cast by younger people and racial minorities.
  2. Lack of uniform standards among counties for rejecting mailed ballots.
  3. Higher rejection rate for vote-by-mail ballots than for ballots cast early or on Election day.

If your mail-in ballot is challenged, the election office might send notice, but what if the notice is thrown out with junk mail?

If you need to vote by mail:

(1) Update your signature in advance with your county election office.

(2) Mail the ballot weeks before the election, so there’s time to discover and solve problems.

(3) Follow up and watch for election-office notices.

Updating your Contact Info

If there are voting-related problems, you’ll need to be notified so you can solve them.

Make sure that your mailing address and other contact info are updated with your county election office.

If you don’t find a page online for updating, try emailing the office. And follow up persistently.

Polling Places

Polling places can change from election to election, even if your home address is the same. If you go to the wrong polling place, you could drive to the right one and wait in line again.

But why risk it, when you can check the location beforehand?

Check your polling place location through your county election office’s website. Photograph the screen so the address is handy.

If you don’t find answers online, email or call the election office —and follow up persistently.

Deborah Cupples (JD, MA, BA) is legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is author of the book, “It Is About You: How American Government Works and How to Help Fix It.”

 

Deborah Cupples

Deborah Cupples is a Master Legal Skills Professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, where she teaches legal drafting. She has also taught courses in statutory interpretation and drafting, constitutional interpretation and revision (Florida), and art law. Her expertise lies in legal-document drafting (primarily contracts and legislation) and contract negotiation.

She wrote the book It Is About You: How American Government Works and How to Help Fix It. She co-authored two other books: one on legal-document drafting and one on grammar and style for lawyers.

Prior to joining the UF Law faculty in 2008, Cupples worked as an attorney in private practice. She continues to do pro-bono work and to work as a legal consultant.

She earned her B.A., M.A., and J.D. degrees all from the University of Florida.

Visit her Faculty Profile.

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