Yard signs have sprouted up around Franklin County warning of possible felony charges that can ensue from so-called “ballot harvesting” by individuals going door-to-door to the homes of registered voters.
While no disclaimer has so far appeared in small lettering at the bottom, as is typical in candidates’ signs, they are the work of an ad hoc Elections Integrity Committee of Franklin County, led by Eastpoint community activist Dottye Thornburg.
A registered Republican, Thornburg said the effort is not motivated by partisanship, but to make sure limitations on vote by mail practices, mandated by the Florida Legislature following the 2020 elections, are strictly adhered to.
“This is not a Republican-Democrat thing,” she said, noting she has no way of knowing whether fellow members of the elections integrity group are of one party or another.
“I didn’t ask them what party they are affiliated with,” she said. “I don’t know.”
Thornburg said she knew of a group of local ladies going door-to-door regarding vote by mail balloting in 2020, during a campaign year in which Florida election laws differed than they are in 2022.
“People said they saw them again in August after the August primary,” said Thornburg. “That’s when I said I need to do better about letting people know.”
She said she drew on wording issued in a Sept. 15 joint letter issued by Gulf County Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon and Franklin County Supervisor Heather Riley.
In that letter, the two election chiefs wrote that they had been made aware that individuals have begun going door-to-door to registered voters’ homes “throughout counties in the State of Florida” to verify voters’ information at that particular address.
“Voters may also be asked to indicate whether they voted in the 2020 general election,” read the letter.
Since voters’ personal information remains public record, including name, address, phone number, email address, designated political party and in which elections they voted, there is nothing illegal about securing that information.
“Voter information must be provided to third party organizations upon request,” read the supervisors’ letter.
“This is free information everybody can give to anybody,” said Riley.
What is unlawful, however, is when “these individuals may misrepresent themselves as being affiliated with Franklin or Gulf County or the supervisor of elections office,” as the letter read. “Please be aware that your supervisor of elections office staff will not come to your home and inquire about your voting history. Remember you are not required to provide any information to these individuals.”
The letter concludes by asking residents to report anyone who comes to the door and indicates they are affiliated with Franklin or Gulf County elections offices, by calling their respective offices.
Riley stressed her office is not connected with the Elections Integrity Committee of Franklin County. She said that since the group is not a registered political committee, it is not required to include a disclaimer on their materials.
“It would help clear up confusion with the voter if it made it clear what groups are putting out information so people would know whether our office was putting out information or it was coming from a private group,” Riley said.
She said that her office has received no official complaints that individuals in Franklin County have misrepresented themselves as being from the local supervisors of elections office.
Hanlon added that vote by mail numers in Gulf County appear to be within the normal range. He said he has seen no anomalies that suggest ballot harvesting is at play.
Thornburg said that she funded the placement of 20 signs throughout the county, including in the vicinity of churches.
“We put signs from Apalachicola all the way to Lanark,” she said.”We were hoping the elderly could read it when walking into church.”
She said that her group’s signs at 12th Street did not last long. “The only ones that were gone were ours,” Thornburg said. “All the signs are there except for in Apalachicola. It was gone in less than 28 hours.”
Thornburg said that as she replaces any signs that have been removed, she plans to include a disclaimer that includes the name of the sponsoring organization.
She rejects any criticism that her effort is intended to suppress voting by those who want to vote by mail.
“The law is there to protect the people,” Thornburg said. “It’s not to subvert the vote.”
What the new rules say
- Any registered voter or their immediate family, including children and grandparents, can request a ballot, if directly instructed by the voter.
- A ballot request can be made in person, by phone, or in writing.
- A ballot request requires a Florida driver license or identification card, or last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
- Anyone can deliver, either in person or by mail with campaign materials, blank request forms to voters, and no limit exists.
- A designee may request an unlimited number of ballots for any member of his or her immediate family, but can secure ballots for two other voters.
- A designee can pick up a ballot for another voter no earlier than nine days before Election Day. Required documents include a written authorization from the voter, a signed affidavit and photo ID.
- A voted ballot must be received by the Supervisor of Elections no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day
- It is a 3rd degree felony for a person to distribute, order, request, collect, deliver, or otherwise physically possess more than two vote-by-mail ballots per election other than his or her own ballot or a ballot belonging to an immediate family member. Other criminal offenses include requesting a vote-by-mail ballot when not authorized or marking someone else’s vote-by-mail ballot, and voting in person after casting a vote-by-mail ballot.