Consolidation, flexibility, early voting, and mail-in ballots will be key in the COVID-19 election cycle

Election Supervisors usually pray for two things on election days – big turnouts and no recounts. Perhaps they also hope for no hanging chads, faulty voting machines, or too many provisional ballots as secondary concerns. It’s a rarity that in the United States safety and health concerns are at the forefront of their concerns. However, this is 2020 and things are a little different.

Welcome to the COVID-19 election.

Kim Barton

Alachua County Elections Supervisor (SOE) Kim Barton struggled with the challenges of the pandemic during the Presidential Preference Primary in March, but wants to be ready for that issue in August and November. 

 “It’s been challenging for me and my staff but we will adjust as we always do,” said Barton. “We’re just trying to get ready and prepare for an election in August. Our goal as SOE is to ensure that Florida’s elections remain accessible to all voters. We faced many significant challenges in the presidential preference primary – losing poll workers, losing two polling locations and difficulty acquiring supplies needed, and if this pandemic continues, we need the flexibility so that we may efficiently prepare for the Primary and General Election. We anticipate making some changes, but this would all depend on the Governor’s response to the SOE’s requests.”

Barton and other SOE’s in Florida reached out to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for help. 

 “We asked the governor to make us a priority such as to receive hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and the things we need to be safe because last election we were struggling to get what we needed,” she said. “We just want to make sure our voters, poll workers, and staff have what we need to carry out in-person voting. We’re waiting to hear back from the governor. We haven’t heard from him yet, but we’re still still trying to prepare for an election.”

Those aren’t the only options they have requested. 

 “We’ve asked the governor to allow counties to allow early voting up to 22 days  prior to the August and November elections that will go right into election day. We’ve also asked that we be allowed to relocate and consolidate polling places. We currently have a polling place in each precinct and that may not be possible with things that are going on right now, so we’re asking to consolidate polling places with early voting sites as well. We’re not sure we can staff 63 polling places so we may have to consolidate, or even make early voting sites for election day as well.”

It’s those unknown factors that have Barton and many other SOE’s pushing for more mail-in-ballots to be cast for the August primary and general election in November.

 “We really don’t know what it’s going to look like, so we’re encouraging our voters to vote-by-mail. It’s like an insurance policy or a security blanket. If you don’t need it, you can still take the ballot to the voting site and vote, but we’re requesting voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a voting site, you can use the ballot. If you decide to vote in person, that’s fine too. We don’t want anyone to be in a position not to vote.”

To request a vote-by-mail ballot, go here.

Barton also explained how a vote-by-mail ballot is the best way to keep track of your vote.

“When you vote by mail, you can track your ballot every step of the way,” she said. “From when you request it, to when it goes out, to when you receive it, to when you mail it in, to when we receive it, and when it’s counted. You can track all of it online at our site votealachua.com.

There has been a lot of discussion about a 100% mail-in ballot election in Florida because of the pandemic, and while Barton may encourage voting by mail, she does not see a pathway to it being the only voting option.

“At this time in the state of Florida we are not totally ready to support a 100% mail-in ballot election for the 2020 Primary and General Elections,” she said. “However, we are encouraging voters to vote-by-mail.

There are, however, voters who do not wish to vote-by-mail and would prefer to vote in-person. For those voters, Barton believes that the mail-in option coupled with an extended early voting period would be the sweet spot for 2020.

“I do support the option for any SOE to determine how many days (up to 22 days, including election day) of early voting. Every county is different. Some county’s budgets will not allow for that. Alachua County will more than likely expand but have not made a final decision pending the Governor’s action.”

The Primary Election is August 18th. The voter registration and party affiliation change deadline for the 2020 Primary Election is July 20th.

The Primary Election is November 3rd. The voter registration and party affiliation change deadline for the 2020 General Election is October 5th.

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