Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner acceded late Monday to a federal court judge's order that voters casting mail-in ballots with signature discrepancies be alerted to the situation by election officials.
- Mail-in ballot voters will be notified if signatures don't match
- US District Court ruled on case Sunday night
- About 23K mail-in ballots were rejected in Florida's 2012 election
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In a memo to the state's county election supervisors, Detzner instructed that mail-in ballots bearing signatures that don't match those kept on file be flagged for notification "as required by the court's order."
In a blistering Sunday night ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker called the procedure for handling so-called "signature mismatch" ballots tantamount to "obscene... disenfranchisement."
State law requires supervisors to contact voters casting mail-in ballots lacking signatures, but the law lacks a similar mandate for ballots with mismatched signatures. Voters are able to correct the discrepancies by submitting a signed affidavit and proof of identification.
The ruling and Detzner's subsequent directive could have game-changing consequences on Election Day. About 23,000 mail-in ballots bearing signature mismatches were rejected in Florida's 2012 election, when the state's presidential contest was decided by about 74,000 votes.
Most election supervisors spent Monday preparing the additional affidavits expected to be mailed in order to comply with the new procedure.
"In our office, it is quite a bit of a burden," Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said. "We'll have a little over 75,000, maybe, of these applications that'll go out there that people sign. The ones who missed their signature, we automatically send them an update, and so we'll just take a little bit more time to get the (signature mismatch) letters out and get the signatures back."
According to the court order, voters with mail-in ballots flagged for signature mismatches will have until 5 p.m. Nov. 7 — the day before the election — to return their affidavits. Supervisors will begin mailing the affidavits next Monday, when they're allowed to begin examining returned ballots.
Walker's speedy ruling — he angrily rejected Detzner's request for an additional week of legal preparation as an attempt by the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Scott to "run out the clock" — effectively ensures that supervisors should have time to comply with it.
A potential time crunch "really doesn't affect us," Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said. "We're just starting to get back the vote by mail ballots now and actually haven't even begun the canvassing process yet."