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Florida, Voter Advocacy Groups Come To Agreement In Elections Case

An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots for Washington state's presidential primary on March 10 in Renton, a suburb of Seattle.
John Froschauer
AP Photo
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots for Washington state's presidential primary on March 10 in Renton, a suburb of Seattle.

The state will help promote voting by mail under a settlement reached Monday between Florida and a group of voter rights organizations. The case stemmed from concerns that the coronavirus could make voting more difficult this year. WFSU’s Blaise Gainey has the details.

"Florida has finally done one thing right about the COVID crisis. Florida is settling this case," said Judith Brown-Dianis. She’s the executive director of the Advancement Project.

Under the settlement reached Monday morning, Florida’s Secretary of State will be responsible for sending out registration information to eligible, unregistered voters in the run-up to the general election. Voters' rights advocates had been pushing for changes to the state’s election practices because of concerns about the impact the coronavirus could have. Getting people signed up to vote is a task typically taken on by voter advocate groups. But because of COVID-19, elections supervisors say the practice has largely dropped off. Stuart Naifeh works with the voters’ rights group Demos.

“One county official during the litigation in the deposition stated that voter registration in her county had fallen essentially to zero," Naifeh said. "Having the state pick up the slack and reach out to unregistered voters and make sure they know what their options are, they know they can register, and that they understand how they can vote by once they are registered is a critical part of this settlement.”

The settlement also requires the secretary of state to encourage elections supervisors to use drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots and to maximize early voting days. This is something voter advocacy groups like New Florida Majority say will help make sure ballots arrive on time. Senior Program Director Mone Holder explains.

"We do not want the second pandemic to be the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters in August and November," Holder said. "Voters are rightfully concerned whether their vote by mail ballots will arrive on time and will be counted and many are discouraged by Florida’s election system. And many are questioning what are their options."

Under the settlement, the state will also send information to voters about requesting and turning in their vote by mail ballots.

The state’s attorney, Mohammad Jazil, called the settlement a victory for all Floridians.

The deadline to register for the general election is October 5. The last day to request a vote by mail ballot is September 19.

One part of the case hasn’t been settled yet. That’s how Florida officials will implement a program designed to allow blind and visually impaired voters to secretly fill out ballots from home. A trial on that matter is set to begin July 27.

For WFSU News I’m Blaise Gainey

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.