Is early voting coming to Apopka for the 2022 elections? The wheels seem to be in motion for a weeklong site at the VFW/Apopka Community Center leading up to the March 8th election date.
At the Wednesday Apopka City Council meeting, Leroy Bell, a former candidate for the city commission, spoke about early voting and the urgency it has for certain voters.
"We think this is disenfranchisement of people that vote here in Apopka early because if you look at our exit polls, it shows that a majority of low and moderate-income people, especially the elderly, vote early... because they don't want to get out and stand in long lines," said Bell. "I thought that Commissioner [Alexander] Smith would have said something about that because he has an aging group of people that he represents in South Apopka."
Bell went on to call on the City Council to vote on the issue.
"We think that early voting in Apopka should be something that the City Council should consider. If it was a vote, there would be a full vote before the city council, because it seems to be the ones that are disenfranchised are the people that look like you Commissioner Velazquez and you, Commissioner Smith, and myself."
City Attorney Michael Rodriguez reminded Bell and the Council that early voting has traditionally been in Orlando for elections that are specifically Apopka-based, and not tied to a county or statewide ballot.
"The voting is run by the Supervisor of Elections (SOE), not by the city of Apopka," Rodriguez said. "And I believe in the special election run-off that we had in 2020, the early voting was also held at the SOE's office, there was no early vote. There are no precincts specified within the city limits for early voting. And since voting is handled by the SOE, this is probably a matter to be taken up with the SOE, as they are the ones that administer the city's elections and every city's elections in Orange County.
But Bell asserted it was actually up to Apopka to decide details such as early voting.
"Well, excuse me," Bell responded to Rodriguez. "I'm not gonna let you dance around because guess what? If anybody from the city would call the SOE, as I did, (Orange County Supervisor of Elections) Bill Cowles said that early voting wasn't a decision made by him. It was a decision made by the City of Apopka and now this is a part of the record, and you're going to sit there and tell me that it didn't happen?"
Bell then turned his attention to Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson.
"We can find the money. We can find money in the city budget to pay you a salary that you said that you would take half of... we can take city money and give it to your friends in the bank. But when it comes to people who look like me, we can't let them exercise their constitutional right here in the city of Apopka? Why? Disenfranchisement! What are you afraid of? Let the people vote."
Despite the volatile rhetoric, Bell's point seemed to resonate with the City Council.
"So whose decision is it?" Commissioner Kyle Becker asked.
"Oh, the City Council, we can take it up," said Nelson. "I mean, I'd be happy to take it up."
"If the city desires to work with the SOE to establish a location within the city limits, we can try to attempt to do such an agreement," said Rodriguez. "However, as I said, the last runoff election we had early voting at the SOE's office. The reason why I gave that example is that the runoff election was the only time where we had the one election where we did not piggyback our city election with a statewide general election in 2020."
"We've run early voting locations out of the VFW in past elections," said Becker. "That seems like it would be an obvious spot. And I know in years past, for municipal elections, it's been the same fashion where you've had people that had to go down to Orlando. But if we want to encourage the most people to be part of the civic process, it doesn't seem logical for us to have an early voting period where you'd have to go to Orlando for our Apopka residents. So I would be in favor of having an early voting location here within the City of Apopka. Again, I don't think that would be an expense that would be astronomical considering it's only going to be a week-long period of time."
"We'll reach out to the SOE and see what that would entail," Nelson said. "I'm not sure with our notices... the other thing is we got to be careful we've got the notices we've already [published]... so it's a little more complicated."
"We can vote by resolution to amend the date, as long as we meet the notice requirement," said Rodriguez. "Any statutory notice requirements that we are within that timeframe to properly notify of a change of location for early voting times... the times won't change, so all we'll be doing is moving early voting. I need to make sure that we are within the timeframes to amend the notice and provide adequate notice to the public."
"So we'll bring it back next council meeting," said Nelson. "And then we'll have to look at a budget adjustment. That's not a problem. I'm good with that."
Smith also recalled his own request for early voting in 2018.
"And Mayor, let me just say that four years ago when we had the elections, and the early voting was done at the SOE's office," said Smith. "I asked why we did not have an election here, and it was because we were the only ones on the ballot. And that whoever the SOE was at that time said that the only time that they do early voting outside of that is when there are other individuals on the ballot, like in a general election in the county. We piggyback off of it and that was the reason I was told when I asked that question four years ago."
After the meeting, SOE Bill Cowles confirmed that early voting in Apopka was being discussed.
"We are working on a contract and revised cost estimate for an Early Voting site for the Apopka Municipal Elections," Cowles told The Apopka Voice in an email.
City Clerk Susan Bone also confirmed that actions were being taken to create a local early voting venue.
"We have time and are working on this," Bone said in an emailed response. "To that end…we’re in receipt of the agreement from the SOE and I’m in the process of having it signed."
Bone said the cost for an early voting site will be approximately $10,000 for the week.
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