Ryan: Voting Instructions Lead To More Confusion






mike ryan


In the past few elections cycles, voting by absentee ballot has been a meaningful portion of the overall vote.   Once voters understood “absentee” doesn’t mean you have to be “absent” from the county and how easy it is to vote by mail, absentee voting increased.

However, there are reports of voter confusion related to the ballot instructions and the ability to correct mistakes on absentee ballots before casting their vote.

The current ballot instruction states

“If you make a mistake, don’t hesitate to ask for a new ballot. If you erase or make other marks, your vote may not count.”

Those versed in election procedures and election law read those instructions and say, “Well, that’s kinda true, sometimes.”

As to the first part of the instructions, (i.e. requesting a replacement absentee ballot if a mistake is made), that method of correcting a mistake makes sense if the voter is not really “absent”.

However, the voter may not have time to request a replacement ballot if they are out of town. In addition, some are worried about delays in receiving a replacement ballot and jeopardizing their vote being counted.

If you are not really “absent”, you can also turn in your absentee ballot at either an early voting site or a precinct on election day and ask to vote with a new ballot. Or, you can even go in without your absentee ballot and you will be able to vote a regular ballot if the poll workers can confirm you didn’t already turn-in your absentee ballot.

So, making a mistake doesn’t always mean you have to request and wait for a replacement absentee ballot.


Voters Have the Right to Correct A Ballot


More concerning is the part of the instruction that says, “If you erase or make other marks, your vote may not count.” While that is literally true in some circumstances, this instruction is incomplete, misleading and, under some circumstances, wrong.

To begin with, it is not completely true that if a voter erases or makes a mark on the ballot their vote may not count – in fact, in some circumstances their vote must count.

A voter is statutorily and constitutionally guaranteed the right to correct their ballot. IN fact, the Florida Division of Elections has issued guidance regarding “Standards for Determining Voter’s Choice on a Ballot”. 1S-2.027. This rule was adopted for the purposes of manual review of a ballot to “determine whether or not there is a clear indication that the voter has made a definite choice in a contest.”   So long as the voter makes a correction that demonstrates a “clear indication” of a “definite choice”, the vote must count.

This rule offers supportive guidance to be utilized by the Canvassing Board to determine the intent of the voter when an absentee ballot is received which cannot, for one reason or another, be scanned or counted without review.


A Mistake Leads to a Dilemma


Voters who have made a mistake in filling out their absentee ballot and then read the instructions tell me they were faced with a series of dilemmas.

  • Do the instructions mean that if they erase or make a correction, the whole ballot may not be counted or just the item they wish to correct?
  • Voters concerned about receiving a replacement ballot in time are faced with another dilemma – do they “sacrifice” one item (meaning do they regrettably allow the unintended or erroneous vote on a particular to stand) so that their vote on other ballot items will be counted or take a chance they receive a replacement ballot in time?
  • Do they try to correct their vote in an effort to make clear their true choice or intent, even though the instructions do not say this is an option?

It is true that if the Canvassing Board cannot clearly determine the voter’s intended choice, the vote on a particular item will not count. However, as outlined in 1S-2.027, there is significant guidance as to how to determine the voter’s choice.

It is also true that it is less stressful on the voting system if a replacement ballot is obtained or the voter the goes to a polling site to vote.

However, a voter shouldn’t have to be well-versed in election procedures and election law to know they can correct a mistake and their vote will still count.

It’s too late for this election.

Going forward, a new instruction should be drafted to accurately reflect the statutory and constitutional right to correct a mistake on the ballot and allow voters to meaningfully cast their vote as they intended.

Voting absentee shouldn’t give you less rights, just more convenience.



(Michael J. Ryan is the mayor of Sunrise and a lawyer with an office in Fort Lauderdale)



6 Responses to “Ryan: Voting Instructions Lead To More Confusion”

  1. John Henry says:

    If you make a mistake dont hesitate to ask for a new ballot—We all have to do our part to make sure that the taxdollar gravy train doesn’t derail for the Broward political elite.

    Can’t wait for Tuesday—Amendment 2 will pass and the CSC & School Bonds will go down in flames.

  2. Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Jay Schwartz says:

    It would appear the solution would be to require State, County, Local referendums to be placed on individual pages. Partisan races and Non Partisan races would also have their separate page. Five total sheets of paper. Voters may also choose the language in which they wish to vote with. We have the technology to do it.

  3. vangork says:

    mike ryan blah,blah,blah…shoush me again at sunrise city council meeting…somebody knows you? f/u you and your hopes of moving up..

  4. clittity clacker says:

    Appoint Sir Ryan to the rewrite team, Brenda!

  5. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiwicz says:

    It takes a lot of nerve from a charter member of the lawyers who make their careers out of running for office instead of practicing and learning about law, to complain about the problems of the Election Law and proceedures! Do we forget Ryan’s buddies” sit in the State Legislature who write the pass the Election Laws Tim Ryan is like the orphan who kills his parents then asks for amnesty from the court because he has no parents.

  6. Movie Critic says:

    I definitely have been anticipating the Dumb and Dumber sequel, but John Henry & Vangork take the cake. Furthermore, they make #2 look like a genius.

    Lastly, to debase the author (aka Mike Ryan) because he attempting to bring a significant issue to light is unsettling. Apparent personal instability aside, there was an organizational flaw with the ballot and whether or not a voter agrees with the fund or not, every voter deserves the right to understand what it is they are voting for. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the government organization running the election to ensure the ballots are as clear as possible.

    So, Vangork, I recommend you find medical treatment for your, ughmm…personal insecurities, and retain some shred of dignity by remaining professional.