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Lawsuit seeks mail ballots for every Florida voter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Uncertainty over the health risks of voting in August and November has three citizens suing to make sure every registered voter in Florida gets a mail-in ballot and the state pays the return postage.

Many elections supervisors are already reaching out to voters and asking if they want a mail-in ballot.

The lawsuit, filed by a retired sheriff’s deputy and two others who work helping senior citizens, it asserts requiring voters to request a mail ballot rather than just sending one, and requiring them to pay the postage is asking too much.

“Many people don’t have computers,” said attorney Harvey Sepler, who is representing the three plaintiffs. “They don’t want to leave their homes because of the virus because they don’t want to expose themselves. That means they don’t want to leave to request a mail-in ballot.”

The suit has been assigned to a judge, but no hearing has been set.

The lawsuit comes as a poll by a group calling itself Secure Democracy found overwhelming national support for everyone getting a mail ballot.

However, the same poll found 93% want polling places to be open as well.

“And in-person voting is going to look different,” said Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer, who also serves as President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

Supervisors have already asked the governor for the authority to consolidate polling places.

“We’re not going to be letting 30, 40 people into polling site at the same time,” said Latimer.

Most voters are already getting cards asking if they want a mail ballot.

In 2018, a third of the ballots were cast by mail, but in this past Presidential Preference Primary that jumped to over 50% in some counties.

And so far, the state hasn’t responded to two requests from supervisors.

They want more days of early voting and longer times to mail and process ballots.

“And I’m going to go back and check and make sure I had the right address because we haven’t heard anything,” said Latimer.

And remember, you can request a mail ballot, and as long as you don’t return it, you can still vote in person on election day or early voting.

You can also return the ballot in person until the polls close.

The Republican Party of Duval County said it believes that anyone who is legally eligible to vote should be able to cast their ballot in the method of their choosing: by absentee, early voting or on Election Day.

“It is critical, however, that the integrity of our elections remain intact. We strongly oppose any measure to eliminate common sense voting safeguards, sending ballots to inactive voters, or ballot harvesting, all of which pave the way for fraud. We also have complete confidence in Supervisor Mike Hogan and Governor Ron DeSantis in their ability to ensure safe and fair elections,” the Republican Party of Duval County said in a statement.

Daniel Henry, chairman of the Duval County Democratic Party, also sent a statement to News4Jax:

"The Duval County Democratic Party believes voting accessibility is paramount for all voters even more in this years’ elections. With the risks of COVID-19, vote-by-mail is the safest way to vote, and its critical Governor DeSantis and Supervisor Hogan extend more access to this form of voting. Additionally, we agree with the assessment of the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association to increase early voting to three weeks to ensure proper social distancing. You can keep yourself safe, socially distance, and vote at the same time.

“We further encourage all voters to sign-up for vote-by-mail today by visiting StamptheVote.com.”

News4Jax anchor and reporter Kent Justice contributed to this report.