News

Florida: Here's How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

Voting in Florida is a… special experience. Not just because we’re the most important state in every presidential election (come at me, Ohio). But also because there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll end up interviewed on The Today Show when the entire world tries to find Floridians who can explain how we screwed this election up. Again.
 
But this year, we can’t really afford to Florida this up. And if any of the big issues facing our world today -- climate change, racial equality, limitations on homestead exemptions -- are important to you, it is absolutely essential that you vote. Especially in a state where super thin voting margins are the norm, and our electoral votes almost always decide who wins the White House. Some might raise concern that a place where people regularly walk alligators into grocery stores determines who runs the country. But this is the system we have.
 
In Florida, “your vote counts” isn’t just a tagline, so in 2020 let’s make sure we get it right. To that end, we’re giving you everything you need to know about how to vote in the state, be that by mail or in person. So, whether you’re comfortable going to your polling place on Election Day, want to vote early, or are trying to vote by mail, here’s all the skinny on how voting works in the place that puts the “swing” in “swing state.”

What is the deadline to register to vote in Florida?

October 5 is the voter registration deadline for the November 3 general election in Florida. So you still have a few weeks.  No excuses!

How to register to vote in Florida

The absolute easiest way to register to vote in Florida is online at the state’s official voter registration page. You can also register to vote by mail, which is the same as “absentee voting.” The name was changed to reflect that anyone in the state could vote by mail. Just download the form in English or Spanish, print it, and mail it in. Mailing addresses are listed by county on the second page of the form.

If you like giving yourself an excuse to leave the house every day, or have a snazzy new knockoff Dior mask you’ve been dying to show off, you can also register in person at any Florida Drivers License office. Find one near you here. You can also register at any county Supervisor of Elections office, library, or place authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to issue fishing, hunting, or trapping permits.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote in Florida? You can check your voter registration status here, as well as find your polling place.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Florida?

Yes! Poll lines in this state are notoriously long, so if you’d rather avoid standing in line sweating your face off on Election Day, this might be the best option for you.

Early voting in Florida runs from October 24-31, so you can literally vote in your Halloween costume if you’re feeling spirited. But you can’t just roll into your regular polling place and vote. Each county has special early voting locations, where all precincts can vote. Look at your county’s Supervisor of Elections’ web page to find locations, and here are the locations for Dade and Broward. Also, please note you’ll need a photo ID of some sort and a signature verification to vote early. A list of acceptable documents can be found here.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes! If you’re trying to vote from the comfort of your living room, it’s pretty simple: Just request a mail-in ballot from your county’s Supervisor of Elections. They’ll either mail it to you or you or a designated person can pick it up at the Supervisor of Elections office.

If you don’t have access to Wi-Fi or just really like licking stamps, you may also send a written request to your county’s Supervisor of Elections. The request must include your name, address, date of birth, and signature. Sign slowly: The signature on your ballot has to match this one.

You can also call the Supervisor of Elections and request a mail-in ballot, if you’re the kind of masochist who enjoys calling government offices. Or you can just stroll into the Supervisor of Elections office and do it there.

The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is October 24, meaning it must be mailed by 5pm that day. If you do the math that’s probably not enough time to get your ballot and mail it back, though. So you may want to get on that, like, now.

How to vote by mail in Florida

First, fill out your ballot, and for the love of hanging chads please make sure you bubble in the people you mean to vote for. Then, if you believe your ballot will be handled correctly, put a stamp on it, throw it in your mailbox, and mail it to your Supervisor of Elections. But your ballot must be received by Election Day to be counted, so the USPS recommends leaving at least a week for delivery. This being Florida, you might wanna make that two.

If you’d like to see with your own eyes that your ballot got to its intended location, you may drop it in secure drop boxes at your county’s Supervisor of Elections office, or at any early voting location.

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

You can check the status of your mail-in ballot by entering your name and birthdate at the Florida Division of Elections website. But be sure you’ve followed every instruction exactly, because ballots can be tossed out for anything from signatures mismatches to torn envelopes. This isn’t IKEA furniture -- read all the directions before you start.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

The measures taken to ensure safety at polling places in Florida will vary by county. But nearly all are requiring poll workers to wear masks, and are suggesting bringing your own pen to fill out your ballot.

In Miami-Dade, poll workers will be wearing face shields, masks, and disposable gloves. There’ll be plenty of hand sanitizer on hand, and every touch point will be wiped down and disinfected between uses. The county is requiring voters to wear masks at polling places, and requests everyone use hand sanitizer before entering and leaving.

Here’s a rundown of what the CDC recommends:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Additional Florida voting resources:

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.