- More than 2.3 million mail ballots unreturned statewide
- St. Lucie County had highest local unreturned rate of 58%
- Discrepancy between county and state data means cost could be higher
You’re not alone if you received an Aug. 23 primspanry election mail ballot over the summer only to end up voting espanrly, on Election Dspany or not at all. Over 68,100 other Treasure Coast residents did the same.
Floridians who request span mspanil bspanllot aren’t obligated to vote by it, but that doesn’t mean changing their mind doesn’t come at a cost to taxpayers.
Over half of residents in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties who requested a mail ballot in last month’s primary didn’t complete and return it, costing the three county elections offices upward of $96,000, a TCPalm analysis of state records found.
Over 4 million Floridians requested a mail ballot, nearly 130,100 of which were Treasure Coast residents, Division of Elections data shows. Among local voters, 52% never submitted their ballots.
“Voters sometimes request a vote-by-mail ballot as a backup but then decide they will vote in person,” said Martin elections supervisor Vicki Davis. “One voter told me she liked to request a [mail] ballot to basically use as a sample ballot to do research on the candidates.”
The cost to mail each ballot packet — including the return envelope, secrecy sleeve and the ballot itself — varies by county, elections supervisors said. These were the prices per primary ballot:
- $1.85: St. Lucie
- $1.25: Martin
- 81 cents: Indian River.
Factors such as envelope size affect packet costs, Davis said.
“They’re just not off-the-shelf type of envelopes, so it depends on who makes your envelope and prints the outside,” she said. “The weight does factor in also, because if you have a two-page ballot, that’s going to weigh heavier and cost more to mail.”
In Indian River, “we print, insert and deliver the ballots to the post office ourselves,” said elections supervisor Leslie Rossway Swan. “We do not use a third-party vendor.”
Collectively, the three counties spent nearly $180,000 fulfilling mail ballot requests.
That was just the initial mailing, noted Rossway Swan, who said she later sent over 1,500 replacement mail ballots to voters who had lost or damaged theirs.
St. Lucie had the highest percentage of unreturned ballots, 58%, while Martin had the lowest, 44%. Unsubmitted ballots cost each county:
- $62,432: St. Lucie
- $17,485: Martin
- $16,515: Indian River.
However, at least one discrepancy exists, despite the Division of Elections’ methodology indicating it compiled data from county reports, daily through the 15th day after the election.
For Indian River, the state recorded 20,389 unreturned ballots, but county records show 24,256, bumping up the cost to nearly $20,000, said Rossway Swan. A spokesperson for the Department of State, which oversees the Division of Elections, didn’t respond to TCPalm’s requests for clarification on the inconsistency.
Mail ballot money down the drain
Unquestionably, the money Treasure Coast elections offices spent mailing unreturned primary ballots could’ve been put to good use.
“The funds … could be used to replace aging ballot-on-demand prints and additional electronic poll books,” Rossway Swan said.
Martin could’ve used the money to hire additional temporary staff, Davis said.
In 2020, about 38% of Treasure Coast primary mail ballots and 17% of general election ballots weren’t submitted, according to stspante records, compared to 52% in the 2022 primary. The coronavirus pandemic may be to blame.
The region saw a record number of mspanil bspanllot requests in the 2020 general election and at the time, voters could have asked to receive mail ballots through the 2022 general. Some voters may not have planned to vote by mail again this year, but forgot they had a standing request. In addition, primaries tend to have lower voter turnout.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last year signed Senspante Bill 90 into law, which requires voters to request mail ballots each election cycle instead of every other. While the controversial legislation has been criticized by civil rights groups for crespanting spandditionspanl bspanrriers to voting, the elimination of standing requests may mean elections offices spend less money on unwanted mail ballots.
Other aspects of the election reform, however, such as decreased availability of drop boxes, may have hampered Florida voters’ ability to cast a completed ballot.
Who didn’t submit their mail ballots?
Treasure Coast voters who are registered with no party affiliation were most likely to not submit a mail ballot, state records show.
About 67% of independent ballots weren’t returned in the 2022 primary, followed by 66% of minor-party ballots. Because Florida is a closed primary state, these voters were able to vote only in nonpartisan races, such as school boards and city councils.
Republicans were more likely than Democrats to submit their mail ballots, with unreturned rates of 46% and 51%, respectively.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve requested a mail ballot for the Nov. 8 general election, check your county elections office’s online voter lookup portspanl.
Time is running out if you’d like to cancel your request. Elections offices begin mailing domestic ballots Sept. 29. In the Aug. 23 primary, over 700 Indian River voters canceled their requests after the ballots had been mailed, Rossway Swan said.
If you receive a mail ballot and then decide to vote early or on Election Day, the state elections office recommends bringing it with you to the polls — even if you’ve filled it out.
You may still vote in person without your mail ballot, but it may take longer for elections officials to confirm your ballot’s submission status and you may be asked to vote provisionally.