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Holiday mail for South Florida voters is about to get a bit busier. In addition to early holiday cards, bills and junk mail, 140,000 South Floridians will begin receiving vote-by-mail ballots on Saturday.
The arrival of the ballots kicks off the first phase of voting in four elections in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It’s an unusual time to vote. The April 6 death of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings precipitated four off-schedule elections. One is to fill his seat in the 20th Congressional District, and the others are to fill seats vacated by those who left other offices in an attempt to replace Hastings.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is responsible for the timing. State law gives him authority to set the timing for special primary and general elections. He decided to keep the Hastings seat open far longer than recent Florida congressional vacancies.
The 20th Congressional District is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the party’s nominee is almost certain to win the general election. Democrats claimed the Republican governor delayed the elections to keep one Democratic vote out of the House, thus making it more difficult for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass legislation.
Three other contests came about because sitting state legislators resigned their positions, effective early in January, so they could run for the congressional opening.
All lost the Nov. 2 Democratic primary, but their departures were irrevocable under the Florida resign-to-run law. As with the congressional election, DeSantis delayed setting election dates to fill the three seats about to be vacated by the lawmakers.
Election Day is Jan. 11, and Florida has a strict deadline for returning mail ballots.
They must be in the possession of county election offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarks don’t count.
Mail service has slowed in the last two years, causing some voters to miscalculate and have their ballots arrive too late.
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won the Nov. 2 Democratic congressional primary to replace Hastings by just five votes — out of 49,082 cast.
A total of 297 mail ballots were postmarked on or before Monday, Nov. 1, but didn’t arrive at the supervisors of elections office until after Election Day, Nov. 2. Under Florida law, they weren’t counted.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link plans to mail ballots to everyone who’s requested them on Friday, Dec. 3. Some of the 39,112 ballots could arrive in voters’ mailboxes on Saturday.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said his staff would mail more than 100,000 ballots, tentatively on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Ballots have already been sent to military and overseas voters.
Scott’s office sent 1,171 military and overseas ballots on Nov. 24. Link’s office mailed 250 and emailed 636 military and overseas ballots on the same day.
There are special rules for overseas voters. Their ballots get counted if they’re postmarked by Election Day as long as they arrive back at supervisors of elections offices within 10 days.
Mail voting has been growing in popularity for almost two decades and boomed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many people to avoid voting in person.
Not everyone who expects a mail ballot will get one, but it’s easy to check and fix.
People who requested mail ballots for the 2020 primaries or presidential election will get a mail ballot for the upcoming elections. That’s assuming they asked to receive ballots for all upcoming elections, which almost everyone does.
However, mail ballot requests from people who first signed up for the 2018 primary or 2018 election for governor won’t get one. Their requests expired at the end of 2020, and they need to make new requests.
The deadline to request a mail ballot is Jan. 1.
Congress: Voters in the two-county 20th Congressional District will make the final decision on who should replace Hastings. All registered voters in the district are eligible.
Democrat Cherfilus-McCormick, Republican Jason Mariner, Libertarian Mike ter Maat and two no party affiliation/independent candidates, Jim Flynn and Leonard Serratore, are on the ballot.
State House, Broward: Voters decide who should fill a vacancy. All four candidates are Democrats. Since no Republican came forward to run for the post, it’s a universal primary open to all registered voters. The winner will go to Tallahassee.
The candidates are Daryl Campbell, Josephus “JoJo” Eggelletion III, Rod Kemp and Elijah Manley.
Senate and House primaries: Democrats in Broward will pick a nominee to fill a soon-to-be vacant Senate seat and Democrats in Palm Beach County will decide on a nominee to fill a House vacancy.
Candidates in the 33rd state Senate District Democratic primary are Rosalind Osgood, currently chairwoman of the Broward School Board, and Terry Ann Williams Edden, who has unsuccessfully run for other offices several times.
Getting the right ballot to the right voter is somewhat complex because the boundaries of each district are different. And two contests are open to all registered voters and two are primaries open only to Democrats.
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In Broward, Scott said, that means there are 10 different ballot styles to reflect all the possible permutations of voters’ locations and different contests.
Information about whether a voter lives in one or more of the districts with elections, requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or finding out if previous mail-ballot requests are still good is available online and by phone.