April 22, 2020 by David Silverberg.
Lee and Collier county election officials say they are ready for massive voting by mail in this year’s elections.
Voting-by-mail has become a hot political topic amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump has denigrated the practice as being subject to fraud, tweeting on April 8 “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” And he added the same day, “Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day. These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is “RIPE for FRAUD,” and shouldn’t be allowed!”
At the same time others view it as the single most viable alternative to in-person voting, which may endanger people’s health during the current pandemic. On April 15, a panel of Democratic Party officials urged Florida officials and voters to prepare for a big increase in mailed voting this year, according to Florida Politics.
In Southwest Florida, with its strongly seasonal populations, voting by mail has long been in use.
“Statistics show that vote by mail continues to be the preferred method of Lee County voters, with approximately 51 percent choosing to do so in the 2018 Gubernatorial Election,” Vicki Collins, communications director for the Lee County Supervisor of Elections stated in an e-mail response to questions from The Paradise Progressive.
“Lee Elections is prepared to meet the higher demand for voting by mail in both the August Primary and November General Elections,” she stated.
When it comes to in-person activities, she added, the office is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to ensure a safe and sanitary environment for staff and our voters.”
Collier County is even more forward leaning on vote-by-mail.
“We are aggressively encouraging voters to vote by mail,” wrote Trish Robertson, the public relations officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections office, in response to The Paradise Progressive’s questions.
The very day Robertson responded, the Collier County elections office sent vote-by-mail request forms to over 211,000 voters.
Not only that, pointed out Robertson, “voters can expect the same dates and deadlines for the elections as prior to this pandemic. This won’t change unless the Governor makes a change in how the election is conducted.”
In an April 7 letter, Florida election supervisors urged Governor Ron DeSantis (R) to be flexible when it comes to voting by mail and made some recommendations for the upcoming elections. (Reproduced in full below.) “We are still waiting on a response,” stated Robertson.
As in Lee County, voting by mail is extremely popular in Collier County, pointed out Robertson.
“Voting by mail has been the most popular way to cast a ballot in the last three elections,” she noted.
- In the 2018 Primary, of all voters: 53 percent voted by mail; 17 percent voted early; 29 percent voted on Election Day.
- In the 2018 General: 38 percent voted by mail; 32 percent voted early; 30 percent voted on Election Day.
- In the 2020 Presidential Preference Primary: 54 percent voted by mail; 22 percent voted early; 24 percent voted on Election Day.
To date, there have been no charges of election fraud in mailed ballots in Southwest Florida.
In this instance at least, Southwest Florida may be a leading region in the nation when it comes to voting by mail.
The letter by Florida election supervisors to Gov. Ron DeSantis:
RE: Recommendations Concerning Election Related Issues Caused by COVID-19
April 7, 2020
Dear Governor DeSantis:
All 67 Florida counties successfully completed the March 17, 2020 Presidential Preference Primary. However , due to the COVID-19 situation and concerns of the public, Supervisors of Elections encountered significant challenges with polling places becoming unavailable, difficulty in acquiring hand sanitizer and other supplies, and substantial numbers of poll workers deciding not to work, many at the last minute.
In anticipation that these challenges will continue and likely will impact the August 2020 Primary Election and the November 2020 General Election, Florida’s Supervisors of Elections request your assistance through the issuance of an Executive Order modifying current Florida statutory procedures. These changes would give each county the flexibility to best administer the election in their county, based on their specific needs. As counties are preparing and making staffing and logistics decisions now, the flexibility and authority provided as soon as possible would be of great benefit.
We anticipate a significant statewide shortage of poll workers for the 2020 elections. While we anticipate that some level of in-person voting will continue, we believe that based on our March 17, 2020 election, alternatives or additional voting methods must be available to counties. We must also advise you that Florida is not in a position, at this time, to conduct an all-mail ballot election this year. Supervisors of Elections must be made a priority for the acquisition of supplies like hand sanitizer and other resources to ensure in-person voting is in accordance with CDC and FDOH guidelines.
For these reasons, we respectfully request modifications to existing statutory provisions and allow or provide for the following:
- As provided in your Executive Order Number 19-262 (for Bay and Gulf Counties), suspend applications of provisions of Section 101.657(1)(a) and (b), Florida Statutes, and allow each county Supervisor of Elections to designate additional or alternative Early Voting site locations.
- Allow counties the option of beginning Early Voting up to 22 days prior to the August and November 2020 elections, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 101.657(l)(d), Florida Statutes, and allow Early Voting to continue, at the chosen locations, through 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.
- Consistent with Executive Order 19-262, concerning relocation or consolidation of polling places, suspend the provisions of sections 101.001 and 101.71(1), Florida Statutes, which require there to be one polling place in each precinct. This will allow the Supervisor the option to relocate or consolidate polling places with Early Voting sites.
- Suspend the provisions of section 101.62(4)(b), Florida Statutes and allow the county Supervisors to mail any requested Vote-By-Mail ballots between the 45th and 25th days before the Primary and General Election. Suspend the requirement that the Supervisor mail vote by mail ballots within 2 business days after receipt of a request and allow for 3 business days to mail.
- Allow counties to begin canvassing and tabulating Vote-By-Mail ballots upon completion of public test in section 101.5612(2), Florida Statutes.
While there may be additional changes necessary for the August and November elections, which will come to our attention and need your assistance, authorizing these provisions at this time will allow us to prepare for more efficient and safe elections. Thank you for your consideration. Please contact me for any questions you may have.
President of Florida Supervisors of Elections
Liberty lives in light
(c) 2020 by David Silverberg