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Hillsborough elections office holds public events aimed at bolstering voter confidence

The county is sending out fewer mail-in ballots this year than it did in 2020.

TAMPA, Fla. — Founded or not, there’s been no shortage of rhetoric regarding ballots cast in the 2020 election.

For some, that’s undermined voter confidence.

On Thursday, Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections held a pair of public events aimed at restoring that faith in our electoral system.

First, workers at Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections Office sealed, loaded and shipped-out more than 322,000 vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming midterm elections.

“People should start watching their mail,” said Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. "Their ballot is on the way.”

Latimer says each of those ballots was requested by the person it’s being sent to. Signatures are checked and then checked again when the ballots come back.

“I am very confident in vote by mail,” said Latimer. “I have not seen any great fraud that’s taking place with it at any time.”

Latimer says they’re sending out fewer mail-in ballots this year than they did in 2020. He chalks that up to a number of factors. First, this is a midterm election rather than a presidential election. Also, more people are confident to vote in-person again.

“Generally, in Hillsborough County, a third of our voters vote by mail. A third vote early vote. And a third vote election day. The pandemic in 2020 skewed that just a little bit,” said Latimer. “We had a much higher vote by mail.”

The elections office also held a state-mandated public test of its voter tabulation machines.

A handful of observers came to watch, making sure the scanners were working accurately, which they did.

But some observers also wondered why they weren’t allowed to take photos even as news cameras did.

“Why would I not be able to take a picture? What am I going to see here that’s different than what you see?” asked Hillsborough Republican party Chairman Jim Waurishuk.

“What do they have to hide?” asked observer Jeanne Webb.

Latimer said there is nothing to hide. That’s the point of doing these things in public. But the elections building, where the tests were being run, do present security issues, he explained.

“We have the public here. We have media here. Everything is wide-open,” said Latimer. “This building that you’re in right now is considered critical infrastructure by the federal government. There are also numerous security issues. The media knows exactly what they are allowed to photograph in here and where those photographs are going. We can’t ensure that anybody else that just picks up their iPhone and starts taking pictures is going to have the same integrity that the media is going to have.”

Latimer hopes overall this kind of transparency will restore confidence in the integrity of the election process, which has come under what’s proven to be unfounded suspicion over the past two years.

“Well, I think it’s very important. I mean, it’s the first end of the accuracy of the election,” said Latimer.

The mail-in ballots will be sent around the nation and the world to registered voters who’ve requested them.

Also, the 28 randomly-chosen voter tabulation machines used for the accuracy test will now be reset, resealed, and securely stored until election day.

Latimer says occasionally they do see a case of voter fraud. But it’s rare.

When they do, he says it usually involves someone voting twice in separate counties or making an unauthorized ballot request for someone else.

He says in total he’s aware of 14 such incidents in Hillsborough over the past five years.

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