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Florida primary: There’s still time to register to vote

Here are the basics you should know about voting in next month's primary.

Focus among political pundits and others may be on November’s upcoming presidential election, but Florida’s August primary ballots will feature significant state and local races that could shape the direction of education, criminal justice and more in our communities.

Here’s what you need to know about voting in the Aug. 18 primary:

There’s still time to register to vote.

If you’re not already registered to vote, you can do so online at RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov. The deadline to register in order to be able to vote in the primary is July 20.

You can also register to vote by mail or in person. Registrations by mail must be postmarked by July 20.

July 20 is also the deadline to change your party affiliation. Florida voters can still make other changes, such as updating addresses, after the July 20 deadline.

Florida is a closed primary state — but there’s a ballot for everyone.

In Florida, only voters who are registered as Democrats may vote in Democratic primary races, and only those registered as Republicans may vote in Republican primary races. Those races will determine which candidates run in the general election.

For instance, in Hillsborough County, Republican voters will decide whether incumbent Sheriff Chad Chronister or challenger Charles B. Boswell will later vie in the general election for sheriff against Democrat Gary Pruitt and Ronald W. McMullen, who is running with no party affiliation.

Related: County races are set as candidate qualifying ends in Florida

However, the August primary features some nonpartisan races as well, including for judges and school board members. Anyone, regardless of their party affiliation, may vote in those races.

And all voters can also mark their choices in universal primary contests. Those occur if all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation, meaning they’d have no opposition in the general election and hence, making the primary the de facto general election.

That’s the case with the race for District 70 State House, a universal “primary”, because all the candidates are Democrats.

This primary is not the same as March’s presidential preference primary.

Florida’s presidential preference primary, which happened on March 17, was largely a chance for Democratic and Republican voters to cast a ballot for their preferred candidate they’d like to see represent their party in the November general election.

Political party delegates from the state will later represent Floridians in nominating the preferred presidential candidate at their party’s national convention.

August’s primary will not include presidential candidates. As noted above, races will include primaries for other local, state and national seats — including for U.S. representative, state attorney, sheriff, county commission and others — as well as some nonpartisan races and, in some cases, local referenda.

You can still request a mail ballot.

The last day that voters can request to have mail ballots sent to them is 10 days before the election, or Aug. 8.

However, voters can choose to pick up a mail ballot from their county elections office through the day before the election. (Voters can also request a mail ballot on Election Day in the event of an emergency.)

Voters can call or visit their county supervisor of elections office, fill out a written request and send it in, or fill out a request form online. Each county elections office in Florida has a link to an online vote-by-mail request form.

The deadline for completed mail ballots to be back at county elections offices is no later than 7 p.m. on Aug. 18.

The U.S. Postal Service has suggested that voters should mail their return ballots at least one week prior to the due date to better ensure it arrives on time. Elections supervisors urge voters to return their mail ballots as soon as possible. Returning mail ballots earlier would give voters more time to cure any issues with their ballots, including a missing or rejected signature.

Voters not wanting to put their filled-out ballots back in the mail can drop off their completed ballots at designated county spots. Again, the deadline for the ballots to be in to the elections office is 7 p.m. on Aug. 18.

Related: So you want to vote by mail in Florida? Here's what you need to know

In-person voting is still happening. But be prepared for some changes.

While county elections officials across the state have been promoting mail ballots, particularly amid the pandemic, both in-person early voting and voting at polling places on Aug. 18 are still available.

Some counties are expanding the numbers or hours of early voting sites to provide more convenience and in hopes of keeping down large numbers of people in the sites at once.

Meanwhile, some counties have had to consolidate some polling places because of concerns over the coronavirus.

Across the state, elections supervisors have been working to put various safety measures in place, including face masks for workers, individual pens for each voter, plastic glass shields and updated cleaning procedures.

Some locations across the state may ask voters to have temperature checks or wear masks.

Officials warn that new safety procedures — such as not allowing more than a certain number of voters into a location at one time — could slow down in-person voting somewhat. That could also mean voters will see lines to vote.

Related: How mask mandates are playing out in Florida's 2020 elections

The eligibility of felons who have unpaid fines and fees is still not settled.

The legal battle over the voting status of hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida will not be decided by the August primary.

A federal appellate court has temporarily stopped a judge’s order from May that set up a process for felons who had completed all other terms of their sentences but could not afford to pay off court fines and fees to be able to vote.

The Florida Department of State sent an email to all county elections officials following the appellate court’s temporary stay. The email told elections supervisors that “all fees, costs, restitution, and fines ordered as part of the felony sentence must be paid or otherwise satisfied before registering or voting” and that there was “no exception” for those unable to pay.

The court is expected to hear the appeal on Aug. 18 — the same day as the primary.

Related: Appeals court stops judge's order granting Florida felons right to vote

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