By John Haughey | The Center Square
While most of Florida’s 67 county elections supervisors are encouraging residents to vote by mail, they say the state is not equipped to make the Aug. 18 primaries and Nov. 3 general election total mail-in affairs.
“Florida is not in a position, at this time, to conduct an all-mail ballot election this year,” Florida Supervisors of Elections (FSE) President Tammy Jones said in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Jones, Lee County’s elections supervisor, called on DeSantis this week to approve by executive order a series of recommended temporary changes in elections statutes to accommodate more absentee ballot voting and longer early voting spans.
FSE asked DeSantis to allow early voting to begin 22 days before the primaries and general election and to keep early voting sites open rather than closing them in the days before an election.
“Supervisors of elections encountered significant challenges” during the March 17 presidential preference primary and want greater “flexibility and authority” to modify state’s elections laws, Jones wrote.
“Greater flexibility” would include allowing county elections supervisors to designate additional or alternative early voting sites, as well as “relocate or consolidate” polling places without meeting a requirement every precinct have at least one polling place.
Supervisors are facing “unavailable” polling places as landlords opt not to host election sites, “difficulty in acquiring hand sanitizer and other supplies” and “substantial numbers of poll workers deciding not to work, many at the last minute,” Jones wrote, noting she anticipates a “significant shortage of poll workers” come August.
Jones told DeSantis supervisors must know “as soon as possible” how to proceed.
DeSantis told reporters he’s inclined to approve the measures but referred the request to Secretary of State Laurel Lee’s office for review.
Elections supervisors aren’t the only ones concerned with how the COVID-19 pandemic could affect elections this year.
A 45-candidate coalition of Congressional and state Legislature candidates has requested 45-day extensions in ballot qualifying deadlines and seek dramatic reductions in fees.
Congressional candidates have a Sunday deadline to meet qualifying requirements and an April 24 cut-off on paying the state’s $10,440 federal office qualification fee.
The candidates want the Congressional qualifying deadline extended to June 7 and the qualifying fee slashed by 70 percent.
“It’s not for us. It’s for the process,” said Cindy Banyai, a Democrat running in the state’s 19th Congressional District, a southwest Florida seat now occupied by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney. “It’s so the people of Florida can be confident they have a free and fair elections process.”
“We need great leadership by the governor to be fair and impartial and to allow the best candidates on the ballot,” said Michael Bluemling, a Republican running in Florida’s 21st Congressional District against incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel.
Lee already has signed off on an emergency rule allowing for digital signatures for petitions.
For state Legislature candidates, the deadline to submit petitions is May 11 and the final qualification deadline is May 25.
If granted a 45-day extension, petitions would not be due until June 25 and candidates would have until Aug. 9 to pay all fees.
The Florida Democratic Party is among the organizations pushing mail-in ballots, although the party is doing so internally rather than asking for a total mail-in ballot.
It has texted 1 million registered voters and asked them to request a mail-in ballot and plan to dispatch 200,000 mailers over the next two weeks urging voters to mail in their votes.
In the past two general elections, about one-third of Florida ballots were mailed in.