Mistakes happen. Don’t throw away the ballot.

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

In everyday life, people make mistakes, and it’s no different at the polls. So how should election officials interpret a ballot if a voter doesn’t fill out a circle next to a candidate’s name, or instead uses a check mark, underline or other punctuation mark to indicate their choice? As Florida looks to update its rules, its approach should be to accept, not reject, all possible ballots. And the state should follow the advice of local election supervisors, the experts who actually run the elections.

Local supervisors are rejecting a proposal from the DeSantis administration that would change the standards for determining voter intent on submitted ballots. The measure prescribes what local canvassing boards must consider when examining the intent of voters who did not fill in the circles next to a candidate’s name, instead using, for example, check marks, circles or even words to indicate their choice.

The proposed rule includes examples of which markings are acceptable, making it more restrictive than the current rule by denying canvassing boards the freedom to determine a voter’s intent, as the News Service of Florida recently reported. But Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus raised a critical point during a meeting with state election officials last week. “Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you should lose your right to cast a vote in a race,” she said.

Marcus’ concern should drive the outcome of any rule change. As she noted: These are valid ballots cast by legal, registered voters, and the state should not voluntarily discard them. “We should do everything we can to count your legal vote,” Marcus said, “rather than trying to write a rule where we try to find ways to not count votes.”

The proposed changes are designed in part to bring greater uniformity to the vote determination process across Florida’s 67 counties. To that extent, the rulemaking process is a good way to air the practical problems involved in juggling the fate of defective ballots.

But this is also where the State must rely on local scrutiny boards. These boards typically consist of the supervisor of local elections, the county commission chairman, and a county court judge. In many counties, the same members have served for years, giving these canvassing boards a wealth of experience distinguishing between invalid votes and innocent errors.

Any rule change should provide clarity and err on the side of including rather than excluding ballots. Canvassing boards have a long history of using their good sense to deal with defective votes. Mail voters, for example, often do not complete their ballots in a single session, but rather over several days. It is normal for some voters to cast their choices with different marks, especially in longer votes and in referendums that offer “yes/no” instead of a candidate’s name.

Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux has a sensible idea: include a blanket provision to codify the flexibility of canvassing boards. “You can cut down all the trees in Brazil and you can’t make enough paper to write a rule that covers everything a voter will do with a ballot,” he said.

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Inclusion, fairness, common sense and flexibility: those should be the guiding principles in this rule-making process. That’s where listening to locally elected supervisors comes into play. These professionals are trained and experienced in conducting elections. The State should follow the example of the supervisors and pay attention to their valid concerns.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Editorial board members include Editorial Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst, and President and CEO Conan Gallaty. Continue @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.