JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In just over three months, Florida voters will cast primary in state and local races. Like everything else in our lives, coronavirus has forced changes in how we do things and elections will be no different.
While the March presidential primary was held before the safe-at-home orders were issued, there were already changes, with polling places moved out of senior living centers.
In Georgia, where early voting in its pandemic-delayed primary is underway, every voter in the state was sent a notice asking if they wanted to vote by mail and a record number already have even though the election is still three weeks away.
Florida elections officials are discussing how to keep citizens safe while voting in August and in November when a high-profile presidential primary could draw a 90% turnout.
“We are still not sure what type of election we are going to hold," Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said. "I don’t suspect it will be all mail, but that is a game-changer for us if it is.”
Hogan said he and others around the state have summited ideas to the state, including expanding early voting and opening up election centers instead of individual precincts.
“Like a precinct on steroids. We also asked for early voting for 22 days and bring it all the way to election day,” Hogan said.
Early voting usually lasts for 10 to 14 days and ends the weekend before election day.
Local elections officials are still waiting for guidance from the governor and secretary of state.
As for vote-by-mail, election officials don’t want to see that as the only option, but they hope more people will take advantage of it.
“We are going to send out a mailer to anyone not already receiving a mail ballot to encourage them to sign up for a mail ballot,” Hogan said.
Hogan said in a normal election cycle they would already be training 2,000 poll workers, but that is on hold until a decision is made.
“The concern is you don’t want people to stay home,” said News4Jax Political expert Rick Mullaney, of Jacksonville University’s School of Public Policy. “(Voters) have to have confidence that it is safe and I’m confident they can accomplish that.”
Elections offices are closed until June 1, but if you need to register or change your voter information, you can do most of that online
Hogan said he has not heard much from the local Republican and Democratic party leaders about the changes election supervisors across the state are recommending, so we asked and got very different answers.
Dean Black, chairman of the Duval County Republican Party, believes Hogan is making the right recommendations.
“He has expressed that vote-by-mail is just logistically, probably not an option. He’s talked about vote centers,” Black said. “I think the governor has shown us that he’s making very good executive decisions across the state in this crisis and I think he is trying to make decisions in light a better-developed Information. And I think as time goes by, we’re going to see what we can do to have free, fair and accessible elections.”
The head of the local Democratic Party also accessibility is key in this election, but wants an emphasis on voting by mail and expanding early voting.
“We agree with the assessment of the supervisors of elections from across the state to increase early voting to three weeks as opposed to two weeks,” Duval Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Henry said. “The second thing is, we want to make sure we have an accurate list of all the precincts that will be open for the August and November election.”
That’s because, during the March primary, precincts in senior living complexes were closed down days before the election as a precaution against the virus.
“You can keep yourself safe, socially distance and vote at the same time, and it’s important that you do so,” Henry said.
“We are going to make thoughtful, methodical decisions," Black said. "Our leaders are not panicked into action and this is a challenge that they will be more than capable of rising to the challenge.”
Mullaney said everyone wants the same thing out of this election.
“What we want is a big turn out and we want that turn out to be safe and we want the results to have integrity,” Mullaney said. “So it’s going to be a challenge across the country to accomplish that.”
Hogan and others say that whatever decisions made about the August primary need to happen soon and will also apply to the November General Election.