Editorial: Florida’s new secretary of state should make it easier to vote

Judge Laurel Lee brings a solid background to the job. Let her use it to get out the vote.
Late last October, voters lined up at the Cyrus Greene Community Center in Tampa during Souls to the Polls. The national event encourages early voting among the African-American community after church on a Sunday before Election Day — voters who have often historically been disenfranchised. Florida’s new secretary of state should do whatever she can to make voting easier. [Times photo by Luis Santana]
Late last October, voters lined up at the Cyrus Greene Community Center in Tampa during Souls to the Polls. The national event encourages early voting among the African-American community after church on a Sunday before Election Day — voters who have often historically been disenfranchised. Florida’s new secretary of state should do whatever she can to make voting easier. [Times photo by Luis Santana]
Published January 30

As the largest swing state, Florida has a key role in deciding the presidency, and as the chief steward of elections, Florida’s secretary of state has great influence in how the process runs. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Laurel Lee, tapped for the job by Gov. Ron DeSantis, should open up elections by making it easier to register and to vote, and she should resist pressure to purge the rolls in search of non-existent voter fraud. The problem in Florida is not people who shouldn’t be voting. It’s legitimate voters who can find their path to the polls stymied.

While she has no direct elections experience, Lee, 44, has a formidable background as a judge and federal prosecutor. Those who know her consider her tough, fair-minded and smart. She should apply those qualities in making sure that anyone who is eligible to vote in Florida has every reasonable opportunity to do so. With the 2020 presidential election already gearing up, it’s important to have efficient systems up and running. From the presidency down to the smallest elective office, voters have a right to reasonable access to the polls, and they should be confident that their ballots will be properly counted.

As more counties encourage people to vote by mail, Lee can look to what works in Pinellas County, which successfully pioneered mail-in ballots, using smart design to ensure voters sign their return envelopes and a process of checking signatures that accepts ballots rather than rejecting them for minor inconsistencies. She can ask other counties to model themselves on Pinellas and effectively create statewide uniformity.

For those who still want to vote in person, she can make sure that early voting hours and sites make it easy to cast a ballot.

For felons benefiting from Amendment 4’s restoration of rights, she can tell supervisors of elections to accept their affidavits in their voting applications. As Howard Simon, who recently retired as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, put it, the burden is on the state, not the aspiring voter: “The voters of the state of Florida restored their right to vote. It’s the voter’s responsibility to affirm what is honest, and it’s the government’s responsibility to confirm whether it is true or not.” Lee also could encourage outreach to felons who may not even be aware that they have regained the right to vote.

We are a better society and have more enlightened government when more people take part in the franchise, forcing politicians to represent all the people rather than a smaller slice of the electorate. Lee should do everything she can to get out the vote, no matter a person’s politics or party. And she can work with supervisors of elections to make sure they have the equipment, the staff and the expertise to count those votes, once cast.

Lee should also bring a judge’s penchant for prudence to allegations of voter fraud, such as alleged by Sen. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. National experts have said that voter fraud is isolated and rare.

In a state where outcomes are often decided by a tiny percentage of voters, it is important not only to ensure free and fair elections but that every voter has a chance to cast a ballot and that every ballot is counted.

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