TAMPA - Absentee ballots are flying off the presses and into people's homes in record numbers. Hillsborough county will send out possibly four times more ballots than they did just ten years ago.
A main reason according to Hillsborough County's election chief of staff, Craig Latimer is convenience.
"In today's world people are busy. They may not be able to take time off to be at the polls on Election Day" said Latimer.
Florida's rules for absentee voting were loosened in 2000 after the close and chaotic presidential race of that year. Since then every county in the Bay Area has seen dramatic increases in the number of those voting by mail.
USF political science professor, Susan MacManus says candidates and their campaigns like and encourage early voting.
"It does lock in voters early and let's you spend the last day of the campaign micro targeting those who haven't yet voted" said MacManus.
Absentee voting by mail has its risks for candidates and voters. The method is considered more vulnerable to mischief and outright fraud. In 2009, voters in a special State Senate election were persuaded to send their ballots to a private mail box instead of the elections office in an apparent attempt to void their votes. But more often the problem is human error.
In 2008, the Hillsborough elections office under then supervisor, Buddy Johnson misplaced 846 absentee ballots. They were found in an office more than a week after the election. Craig Latimer points out that since he took over as chief of staff changes have been made.
"Daily those ballots are brought to this office and stored in a secure area under surveillance camera twenty four hours a day. That can't happen again" promised Latimer.
Voters also take a risk in returning their absentee ballots too early because a lot can happen in the last days of a campaign. MacManus says the downside for the voter is if they vote early via absentee or early voting and something dramatic breaks toward the end of the campaign, they can't change their mind.
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