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Citing coronavirus, Florida activists sue to extend vote-by-mail deadline in presidential primary

Groups are seeking emergency relief to prevent “large-scale voter disenfranchisement,” according to the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
A bowl of "I Voted" stickers outside the Supervisor of Elections Office in St. Petersburg Monday, March 16, 2020.
A bowl of "I Voted" stickers outside the Supervisor of Elections Office in St. Petersburg Monday, March 16, 2020. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Mar. 17, 2020
Updated Mar. 17, 2020

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A group of civil rights organizations is suing Florida over its decision to not extend vote-by-mail for Tuesday’s presidential primary elections amid the rising number of cases of novel coronavirus in the state.

The groups are seeking emergency relief to prevent “large-scale voter disenfranchisement,” according to the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Demos and the Advancement Project say Florida’s vote-by-mail deadlines for the primary should be extended to March 27.

Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio have postponed their presidential primary elections to avoid the possible spread of the virus.

When it was announced that other states were postponing primary elections, DeSantis said Florida would not be taking similar actions.

“They voted during the Civil War,” DeSantis told reporters. “We’re going to vote.”

At a news conference Monday evening, Lee said voting is not like other gatherings because it is “quick” and “community-based.”

Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders, said the state should be thinking of voters like students who anticipated voting on or near their college campuses and were sent home from school as universities and colleges closed.

“Florida’s leadership has disregarded them entirely,” Gilmer said. “These students have now missed the deadline to request an absentee ballot and it is only fair that we provide them an opportunity to vote by mail.”

The groups have also requested that the state contact all voters whose polling places have been moved. They are also asking the state to permit voters to vote curbside with a paper ballot and give poll workers discretion to allow senior citizens and voters who are immunocompromised to move to the front of the line of waiting voters.

Andrea Mercado, executive director of New Florida Majority, noted that because polling places at assisted living facilities have been consolidated to accommodate only facility residents, the closures will “force people to travel farther.”

“Extending and expanding vote by mail is common sense,” she said.

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