(2)(a) The county canvassing board may begin the canvassing of vote-by-mail ballots upon the completion of the public testing of automatic tabulating equipment pursuant to s. 101.5612(2), but must begin such canvassing by no later than noon on the day following the election. However, notwithstanding any such authorization to begin canvassing or otherwise processing vote-by-mail ballots early, no result shall be released until after the closing of the polls in that county on election day. Any supervisor, deputy supervisor, canvassing board member, election board member, or election employee who releases the results of a canvassing or processing of vote-by-mail ballots prior to the closing of the polls in that county on election day commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(b) To ensure that all vote-by-mail ballots to be counted by the canvassing board are accounted for, the canvassing board shall compare the number of ballots in its possession with the number of requests for ballots received to be counted according to the supervisor’s file or list.
(c)1. The canvassing board must, if the supervisor has not already done so, compare the signature of the elector on the voter’s certificate or on the vote-by-mail ballot cure affidavit as provided in subsection (4) with the signature of the elector in the registration books or the precinct register to see that the elector is duly registered in the county and to determine the legality of that vote-by-mail ballot. A vote-by-mail ballot may only be counted if:
a. The signature on the voter’s certificate or the cure affidavit matches the elector’s signature in the registration books or precinct register; however, in the case of a cure affidavit, the supporting identification listed in subsection (4) must also confirm the identity of the elector; or
b. The cure affidavit contains a signature that does not match the elector’s signature in the registration books or precinct register, but the elector has submitted a current and valid Tier 1 identification pursuant to subsection (4) which confirms the identity of the elector.
For purposes of this subparagraph, any canvassing board finding that an elector’s signatures do not match must be by majority vote and beyond a reasonable doubt.
2. The ballot of an elector who casts a vote-by-mail ballot shall be counted even if the elector dies on or before election day, as long as, before the death of the voter, the ballot was postmarked by the United States Postal Service, date-stamped with a verifiable tracking number by a common carrier, or already in the possession of the supervisor.
3. A vote-by-mail ballot is not considered illegal if the signature of the elector does not cross the seal of the mailing envelope.
4. If any elector or candidate present believes that a vote-by-mail ballot is illegal due to a defect apparent on the voter’s certificate or the cure affidavit, he or she may, at any time before the ballot is removed from the envelope, file with the canvassing board a protest against the canvass of that ballot, specifying the precinct, the voter’s certificate or the cure affidavit, and the reason he or she believes the ballot to be illegal. A challenge based upon a defect in the voter’s certificate or cure affidavit may not be accepted after the ballot has been removed from the mailing envelope.
5. If the canvassing board determines that a ballot is illegal, a member of the board must, without opening the envelope, mark across the face of the envelope: “rejected as illegal.” The cure affidavit, if applicable, the envelope, and the ballot therein shall be preserved in the manner that official ballots are preserved.
(d) The canvassing board shall record the ballot upon the proper record, unless the ballot has been previously recorded by the supervisor. The mailing envelopes shall be opened and the secrecy envelopes shall be mixed so as to make it impossible to determine which secrecy envelope came out of which signed mailing envelope; however, in any county in which an electronic or electromechanical voting system is used, the ballots may be sorted by ballot styles and the mailing envelopes may be opened and the secrecy envelopes mixed separately for each ballot style. The votes on vote-by-mail ballots shall be included in the total vote of the county.
(4)(a) As soon as practicable, the supervisor shall, on behalf of the county canvassing board, attempt to notify an elector who has returned a vote-by-mail ballot that does not include the elector’s signature or contains a signature that does not match the elector’s signature in the registration books or precinct register by:
1. Notifying the elector of the signature deficiency by e-mail and directing the elector to the cure affidavit and instructions on the supervisor’s website;
2. Notifying the elector of the signature deficiency by text message and directing the elector to the cure affidavit and instructions on the supervisor’s website; or
3. Notifying the elector of the signature deficiency by telephone and directing the elector to the cure affidavit and instructions on the supervisor’s website.
In addition to the notification required under subparagraph 1., subparagraph 2., or subparagraph 3., the supervisor must notify the elector of the signature deficiency by first-class mail and direct the elector to the cure affidavit and instructions on the supervisor’s website. Beginning the day before the election, the supervisor is not required to provide notice of the signature deficiency by first-class mail, but shall continue to provide notice as required under subparagraph 1., subparagraph 2., or subparagraph 3.
(b) The supervisor shall allow such an elector to complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the 2nd day after the election.
(c) The elector must complete a cure affidavit in substantially the following form:
VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOT CURE AFFIDAVIT
I, , am a qualified voter in this election and registered voter of County, Florida. I do solemnly swear or affirm that I requested and returned the vote-by-mail ballot and that I have not and will not vote more than one ballot in this election. I understand that if I commit or attempt any fraud in connection with voting, vote a fraudulent ballot, or vote more than once in an election, I may be convicted of a felony of the third degree and fined up to $5,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years. I understand that my failure to sign this affidavit means that my vote-by-mail ballot will be invalidated.
(d) Instructions must accompany the cure affidavit in substantially the following form:
READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE COMPLETING THE AFFIDAVIT. FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS MAY CAUSE YOUR BALLOT NOT TO COUNT.
1. In order to ensure that your vote-by-mail ballot will be counted, your affidavit should be completed and returned as soon as possible so that it can reach the supervisor of elections of the county in which your precinct is located no later than 5 p.m. on the 2nd day after the election.
2. You must sign your name on the line above (Voter’s Signature).
3. You must make a copy of one of the following forms of identification:
a. Tier 1 identification.—Current and valid identification that includes your name and photograph: Florida driver license; Florida identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles; United States passport; debit or credit card; military identification; student identification; retirement center identification; neighborhood association identification; public assistance identification; veteran health identification card issued by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs; a Florida license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm; or an employee identification card issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the Federal Government, the state, a county, or a municipality; or
b. Tier 2 identification.—ONLY IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A TIER 1 FORM OF IDENTIFICATION, identification that shows your name and current residence address: current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or government document (excluding voter information card).
4. Place the envelope bearing the affidavit into a mailing envelope addressed to the supervisor. Insert a copy of your identification in the mailing envelope. Mail (if time permits), deliver, or have delivered the completed affidavit along with the copy of your identification to your county supervisor of elections. Be sure there is sufficient postage if mailed and that the supervisor’s address is correct. Remember, your information MUST reach your county supervisor of elections no later than 5 p.m. on the 2nd day after the election, or your ballot will not count.
5. Alternatively, you may fax or e-mail your completed affidavit and a copy of your identification to the supervisor of elections. If e-mailing, please provide these documents as attachments.
(e) The department and each supervisor shall include the affidavit and instructions on their respective websites. The supervisor must include his or her office’s mailing address, e-mail address, and fax number on the page containing the affidavit instructions, and the department’s instruction page must include the office mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and fax numbers of all supervisors of elections or provide a conspicuous link to such addresses.
(f) The supervisor shall attach each affidavit received to the appropriate vote-by-mail ballot mailing envelope.
(g) If a vote-by-mail ballot is validated following the submission of a cure affidavit, the supervisor shall make a copy of the affidavit, affix it to a voter registration application, and immediately process it as a valid request for a signature update pursuant to s. 98.077.
(h) After all election results on the ballot have been certified, the supervisor shall, on behalf of the county canvassing board, notify each elector whose ballot has been rejected as illegal and provide the specific reason the ballot was rejected. In addition, unless processed as a signature update pursuant to paragraph (g), the supervisor shall mail a voter registration application to the elector to be completed indicating the elector’s current signature if the signature on the voter’s certificate or cure affidavit did not match the elector’s signature in the registration books or precinct register.