Every voter in Florida deserves to be able to vote in a safe and secure manner. In addition to personal safety, voters want the assurance that their vote is counted. Likewise, elected officials rely on elections being honest and fair – especially in competitive political environments.
Public office holders trust election administrators to run our elections so that, when a winner is declared, we can leave the campaign behind and get to the business representing our communities. Voters and the representatives that they vote into office pay close attention when election administrators warn of potential problems. Our right to vote depends on ensuring the electoral process is as smooth and secure as possible.
Recently, the Florida Supervisors of Elections raised the alarm about running an election during a pandemic. Their concerns are valid and merit careful consideration. They state, in part, that the presidential primaries in March saw “significant challenges with polling places becoming unavailable, difficulty in acquiring hand sanitizer and other supplies, and substantial numbers of poll workers deciding not to work, many at the last minute.” While these issues didn’t prevent the primary election from being run successfully, the general election is much larger and more complicated. In 2016, more than twice as many Floridians voted in the general election than in the Republican and Democratic primaries combined.
In their communication, the supervisors offer various proposed changes to Florida’s election laws and regulations which can potentially be implemented with a minimum of bureaucracy and red tape thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ emergency declaration for COVID-19.
The supervisors recommend that election administrators count all the ballots that are postmarked by the end of Election Day, rather than received by the end of Election Day. This would provide relief for voters who are technically voting at the same time as someone who visits a polling place. Meaning if the Post Office experiences delays, the voters won’t pay the consequences and will have their vote counted.
Another thoughtful suggestion from the supervisors in order to help ensure that every legitimate vote is counted is to allow a 10 day grace period after the election to allow voters to correct any issues with the signatures on their mail-in ballots.
Taking into account social distancing guidelines for those who can’t use a mail-in voting method, or prefer not to, early voting options can be expanded (both the duration and the number of polling places) so that older Floridians, medical professionals on the front lines, and those with compromised immune systems can cast their ballots while maintaining social distance.
During this time of great uncertainty, mail-in ballot request dates can also be expanded to allow Florida voters ample time to request their ballots. All registered voters could also be mailed an absentee ballot application (not the ballot itself). By allowing the ballots to be counted as they come in, the final results of the election will be available closer to when people vote. A two-week delay in certifying the election to ensure that the mail-in ballots have been tabulated properly and that those with signature mismatches have been given the opportunity to correct the errors could be an additional measure to ensure a smooth election process.
Even before the November elections, Florida could start reforms to modernize the voter registration process. Currently, Floridians of voting age with a valid Social Security number can register by mail to vote. But the online voter registration system requires an ID number issued by the Florida DMV. With a rush of new registrations of both parties expected before the election, the same rules could be applied to the online system that the mail system uses.
However, all of these solutions also depend on continuing the emergency declaration though the November election. Otherwise, the old rules and regulations snap back into place.
Florida is fortunate, that, unlike other states, our presidential primaries were successful and smooth. Gov. DeSantis, our legislators and the Supervisors of Elections were able to identify possible risks to our election systems months ahead of time, and to recommend fixes. The time is now to study, learn and act to ensure that Floridians are able to vote in a safe manner and that they are certain that their votes will be counted.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, represented South Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989-2019, and currently co-chairs the Secure Election Project.