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Florida Supervisors, Voting Rights Groups Call For Change To Elections Process During Pandemic

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On April 7, Governor Ron DeSantis received a letter from all 67 Florida Supervisors of Elections outlining a list of requests in anticipation of challenges to voting created by the global pandemic. Their requests include the ability to open additional early voting sites, starting early voting sooner, and tabulating vote by mail ballots earlier.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley says the governor has helped with the latter by signing an executive order "that said as soon as the logic and accuracy test are completed we can start tabulating vote by mail ballots."

Earley says that "allows us to start tabulating our vote by mail ballots about two weeks earlier than previous statute.”

But on other recommendations, Earley says he hasn’t heard anything from the governor’s office. That is why the Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and other voting rights advocacy groups want the courts to step in.

“We are asking for the state to make some changes and to make some adjustments that even the CDC says would help in regards to ensuring that people don’t have to make the choice between casting a ballot or catching a virus,” Advancement Project Litigation Director Gilda Daniels said.

She says one of the most important things that can be done is increasing both the number of polling locations, and the time that voters have to use them for early voting. That also hasn't been approved by the governor--something South Florida Sun Sentinel journalist Steve Bosquet says has local supervisors confused.

“They wanted to expand the early voting window from 14 days ...to 22 and Governor Ron DeSantis did not approve that request,” Bosquet said. “That has supervisors that I talk to, even in Republican counties, smashing their heads.

One reason supervisors want the extra time is because they're expecting a shortage of poll workers. Many of the usual volunteers tend to be seniors and might choose to stay home this year to protect themselves from the coronavirus. That could mean a decrease in the number of polling locations each county can open--ultimately causing longer lines. Jessica Lowe-Minor with the League of Women Voters, explains.

“What we don’t want to see in Florida and we don’t want to see anywhere across the country [are] those long lines of people wearing masks, not socially distancing or not wearing masks, not social distancing [and] waiting in line to vote,” Lowe-Minor said. “So we’re really urging in Florida but across the country [also] for states to really broaden that early voting period so you’re really spreading out the amount of time in which people can vote.”

Stuart Naifeh is with Demos, a think tank committed to democracy. He’s concerned about the anticipated increase in vote by mail ballots. While he says he encourages more people to vote by mail, he’s worried about whether the current infrastructure can handle it.

“Because of the demands from the postal service, because a lot of people will be voting by mail for the first time, they’ve never done it before they don’t know how far in advance they need to mail their ballots to get there on time,” Naifeh said.

He says the general rule of thumb is to get ballots in the mail a week before election day, but he adds sometimes seven days isn’t long enough to get them there on time. He wants the rule changed so that ballots have to be mailed by 7 pm on election day, instead of needing to be delivered by the deadline.

A court hearing in the case begins July 20. Upcoming elections are August 18, and November 3. As of right now, early voting begins August 8 and October 24.