At the Indian River County (IRC) Legislative Delegation meeting held on January 12th, 2023, Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan raised concerns about Section 31 of a new voting law signed into law in 2022, 2022 S.B. 524.
2022 S.B. 524 made various changes to Florida’s legal code regarding elections. Some of the changes includes voter roll maintenance, including removal of deceased voters and notifying the Florida Attorney General’s Office of invalid signatures for initiative petitions.
2022 S.B. 524 is the same bill that created the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security, which is under the Florida Department of State. The Florida Department of State is ran by the Florida Secretary of State, who reports to and is appointed by Florida’s Governor (currently Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Tallahassee)).
2022 S.B. 524 specifically says the information requested with vote-by-mail ballots would be used to help protect voter integrity while also protecting the privacy of the information provided by voters when voting by mail.
2022 S.B. 524 in Section 31 (3)(c) says the Florida Department of State at a minimum must “seek input from supervisors of elections, which must include representation from supervisors of counties with large, medium, and small populations” when reviewing “required issues” as mentioned in Section 31 of 2022 S.B. 524.
Swan said all 67 Supervisors of Elections gave input to the Florida Department of State regarding 2022 S.B. 524 via a panel. She said all members of the group concluded “unilaterally” that they opposed the “potential mandates contained” in Section 31 of 2022 S.B. 524.
Currently under Florida Law, a voter has to provide a Florida I.D., Driver’s License or a Social Security Number to their local Supervisor of Elections Office to verify against a voter’s records at the Supervisor of Elections Office, according to Swan. When a ballot is returned to a Supervisor of Elections office, that is when signature verification occurs.
2022 S.B. 524 took effect when S.B. 524 was signed into law and on January 1st, 2023.
Section 31 of 2022 S.B. 524 was written with the intention of further validating the identity of those who vote by mail and intending to prevent identify theft in the process. The information requested by those who vote by mail would include any combination of a Florida driver license number, Florida identification card number or a Social Security Number, per the direction given by the Florida Department of State. Swan also said including the additional information with ballots, on top of existing procedures, appears to be redundant.
Swan said the return envelope would have to have an additional secrecy flap that will have to be added onto the back of envelopes used to send in mail-in ballots, per requirements in Section 31 Subsection 2(c) of 2022 S.B. 524. The addition of the new secrecy flap would require the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Office to purchase new envelopes, which would cost taxpayers a lot of money and dispose of the previous unused envelopes that are kept on hand by the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections.
Swan said if the return envelopes were ever stolen and opened, the information contained in those envelopes would make that voter susceptible to identity theft, including the fact that many mail-in voters put a return address on their envelopes. The combination of information that would be included with a mail-in ballot under 2022 S.B. 524 would give ample information to an identity thief.
According to Swan the new secrecy flap would require the use of more labor to remove each flap from each envelope. She said this additional work would slow the process for counting ballots and take more time for identifying each voter who sent in their mail-in ballot. Ultimately, the additional information and secrecy flap would run the risk of slowing the release of election results on election day.
Another issue is if one of the requested pieces of information, such as a Social Security Number or Drivers License, is not in the voter’s file at the Supervisor of Elections Office, the ballot could be invalidated if the Social Security Number or Drivers License or other piece of validating information is not on file.
Swan also said she wants to encourage people to vote and not be discouraged from the issue she brought forth at the Legislative Delegation meeting.
Indian River County Defend Florida County Coordinator Dee Lavendera told Indian River News she is for the most part in complete agreement with what Swan said at the IRC Legislative Delegation meeting.
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