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Covid19 and Managing Elections

April 2020 Newsletter

The reality of Covid19 on the verge of the Presidential Preference Primary brought many challenges to the previously uncharted territory of administering elections during a pandemic. Suddenly, and with little insight on how the virus would impact voter turnout, Florida elections officials faced the real possibility of a poll worker shortage, and last-minute changes to polling locations. In the week leading up to the election, poll workers understandably made the difficult decision to forgo their civic service, and right up to the day before the election, facilities were cancelling their commitment to be polling places. The time-tested method of in-person voting was unexpectedly under threat by a health crisis, and quick action was required by elections officials throughout the state.    

In anticipation that Covid19 will continue through the remainder of the 2020 election cycle, the Florida Supervisors of Elections (FSE) has asked Governor DeSantis for an executive order to modify current Florida Elections Code to allow for more flexibility in meeting the challenges of staffing the polls, securing polling locations, and providing additional voting methods. In order to lessen the impact to in-person voting due to worker shortages and fewer polling locations, the Executive Order requests that elections supervisors be allowed to designate additional early voting sites, extend the early voting period to 22 days prior to and up to 7:00 p.m. election day, and the flexibility of consolidating polling places and/or relocating them to early voting sites. Early voting sites are often in larger more centrally located facilities and can be staffed with far less poll workers than individual voting precincts.

Voting by mail is a viable option for the upcoming August Primary and November General Elections, and even more so under current conditions. Florida already has no-excuse vote by mail, and over the last several election cycles has increasingly become a more popular voting option. At this time, Florida is not able to conduct statewide mail only elections, but in anticipation of the increased volume, FSE is seeking relief through the executive order to extend the time in which vote-by-mail ballots can be mailed prior to each election (from 25 days to 45 days), and to extend the amount of time (from 2 business days to 3) in which a mail ballot request must be acted on .

In 1992 and 2018, Hurricanes Andrew and Michael presented the unique challenges of conducting elections in the wake of devastation to property and no electricity. Provisions were made and the quick actions of elections officials saw democracy through for electors to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Although natural disasters are unpredictable, the hurricane season in Florida consistently parallels election season, and we have learned through experience that emergency operations plans are a necessity to elections in Florida. The pandemic of 2020 is no more or less predictable, but experience has shown that an operative "plan B" that allows for provisions and flexibility is not optional, and we must begin the work of conducting elections in a way that could literally save lives in the very near future.

For you, the voter, you can begin planning by visiting PascoVotes.gov to check your voter registration status, register to vote, update your address, view election dates and sample ballots when available, check for early voting locations, dates, hours and wait times, or request a vote-by-mail ballot. If choosing to vote by mail, you will be able to track the status of your ballot from the website with the option of receiving e-mail or text updates. As always, if you have questions or need assistance, you can call us at 1-800-851-8754. By working together, we can keep democracy working - even during a pandemic.  

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Categories: Corley's Corner
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