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Voting begins in Florida as military families, overseas residents cast ballots by fax

Voting tags at St. Augustine College are on display as Chicago voters hit the polls on April 2, 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Voting is quietly underway in the Florida presidential election.

The race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden won’t be decided until Nov. 3, and millions of mail ballots won’t be sent to in-state addresses until next week. But by Thursday, dozens of military families living away from home and Florida residents living overseas had already cast their ballots.

At least 81 UOCAVA ballots — an acronym referring to the 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act — have been returned, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Of the votes received, 42 were cast by Democrats, 29 by Republicans, nine by independents and one by a voter registered to a minority party.

Many elections supervisors are waiting for Saturday’s deadline to send requested UOCAVA ballots by mail, but some blank ballots have already been emailed to voters and returned completed by fax, as allowed under federal law. At least 29 votes have been submitted by fax in the Florida Keys, according to state data and Monroe County Elections Supervisor R. Joyce Griffin.

Broward’s elections office plans to send out its UOCAVA ballots Friday, and Miami-Dade will follow suit Saturday, according to spokespersons.

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Most eyes will be on the release of more than 4.5 million domestic mail ballots to Florida voters next week. But the distribution and return of overseas ballots acts as a soft opening to election season in Florida, a key battleground state that Trump likely must win this November. Most polls of Florida voters have found a tight race in the state.

Maria Matthews, director of the Florida Division of Elections, told election supervisors at a workshop Wednesday that they should be “well into” preparations for mailing ballots to their overseas voters.

Supervisors are expected to track ballots through the use of a barcode on the envelope. Matthews also said there is information that is on the United States Postal Service website and contains the list of countries that have suspended mail service and urged them to take that into consideration.

Matthews said “there are no interruptions at this time to overseas, military, and diplomatic mail. We do encourage though, that if you anticipate that there will be some issues with any of your overseas voters to possibly see if there is an option to email the ballots to them. Of course, there’s still the restriction that you cannot return a voted ballot by email.”

Ballots covered under UOCAVA are counted as long as they arrive within 10 days after the election.

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© 2020 Miami Herald