Estimate reduced for number of incorrect voter information cards

No other Southwest Florida county has reported the same problem

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent speaks to the audience during a campaign debate with Jon Thaxton on July 9 at Selby Library. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Because she was able to catch the mistake in time, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent says only around 1,500 of the county’s approximately 280,000 voter information cards will have to be resent because of a problem she learned of this week involving the mail house she used.

In a news release her office sent out July 16, Dent warned that as many as 4,500 voter information cards could have the incorrect polling locations on them.

That news release said that in preparation for mailing out the cards, which was necessitated by redistricting, her office had sent a data file to the mail house. That file contained the voters’ names and addresses, as provided by the voters and on file with the Supervisor of Elections office. The data file also contained precinct, polling location and new political district information associated with each individual address on record.

The July 16 news release quoted Dent: “The mail house, which has access to the [U.S. Postal Service] address change records, unilaterally and without notice to the SOE updated residence and mailing information for some voters using the USPS records. The result is if a voter’s mailing address was changed by the mailing house, the polling location information on the new voter card may not be accurate.”

While the USPS uses internal systems to verify and update addresses regularly, the July 16 news release said, the Supervisor of Elections Office must rely on voters to notify its staff when they move or change their residential addresses.

“The mail house thought they were doing us a favor,” Dent told The Sarasota News Leader July 19. “But the good thing is they were doing [the mailing] in batches. … We caught [the mistake] in time.”

The cards started going out last week.

The mail house is expected to resend cards to the affected voters within the next 10 days to two weeks, at the mail house’s expense, Dent told the News Leader. If a person receives a second voter information card, he or she should discard the first one.

Dent said her office had used this particular mail house before for other project and had encountered no problems. However, she pointed out, the redistricting resulting from U.S. Census changes takes place only once every 10 years. Her office handles routine mailings, she said.

“We mail voter cards daily,” Dent said. However, the size of this mailing necessitated outside assistance, she added.

A News Leader spot check of other Supervisor of Elections offices in Southwest Florida found no other county that had encountered the same problem.

“Thank the Lord, so far we haven’t,” said Bob Sweat, the Manatee County supervisor of elections.

Manatee’s new voter information cards were scheduled to go out by the end of this week, he added. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that there are no mistakes.”

Sweat added, “We have cautioned our mail house. They don’t use the same [USPS] database [as Dent’s mail house].”

Still, Sweat said, “There’s no guarantee in life.”

Manatee County has slightly more than 203,000 registered voters.

Eric West, director of customer service and absentee ballots in Collier County, told the News Leader his office had completed its mailing of new voter information cards with no problems.

In fact, West said, his office also mailed new cards in advance of the Republican Presidential Primary in Florida on Jan. 31. It encountered no problems with that mailing, either, he said.

Collier County’s SOE website says it has slightly more than 171,000 registered voters.

Sharon Harrington, the Lee County supervisor of elections, told the News Leader her office had begun mailing its new voter cards earlier this week. “We have not had any issues, at least not yet,” she said on July 18.

“We don’t all use the same [mail house],” she pointed out. “We just all kind of pick our own.”

She never had encountered a problem with the mail house she used, she said, and it had been handling her office’s mailings for a long time.

Lee County has more than 368,000 voters, according to its SOE website.

Mark F. Negley, the DeSoto County supervisor of elections, pointed out that he has only one assistant in his office. The two of them handle all the mailings, he said, for the approximately 16,000 registered voters in that county. “We don’t rely on third-party vendors.”

Spokesmen for the Supervisor of Elections offices in Charlotte, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties also told the News Leader they had not encountered a problem like Dent’s.

Hillsborough County had 702,649 registered voters as of midday July 18. In Pinellas County, the number on July 18 was 602,239.

The Charlotte County SOE website said that county had 112,453 registered voters on July 18.

Any Sarasota County voter with questions or any voter who receives a new card which contains incorrect address information isurged to contact any Sarasota County SOE office at 861-8600 (Sarasota), 861-3760 (Venice) or 423-9540 (North Port).