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Secretary of State Laurel Lee signed off on order allowing electronic submission of signatures by qualifying candidates.

2020

With face-to-face campaigning on hold, state says candidates can gather petitions online

Politicians often demonstrate their viability by qualifying for the ballot by petition, a cost-effective process that shows populist credibility.

However, coronavirus’ assault on the Sunshine State has put the kibosh on events where those petitions could be secured.

New emergency rules signed off by Secretary of State Laurel Lee allow for some leniency in the petition process.

Emergency Rule 20-1 “removes the requirement that the qualifying items be ‘original[s] and signatures thereon … be made in ink’ so that these items can be collected, notarized, and submitted with limited person-to-person contact.”

Qualifying documents can now be submitted via email, rather than in person. And notary statements will likewise be revised.

The order states that candidates have offered “comments and concerns” about the usual process in an unusual time.

“Permitting circulation and submission of qualifying items by means other than personal contact stops the spread of the virus, while otherwise maintaining the qualifying process for candidates and supporting the state’s important interests in the process as well,” the Lee order contends.

The order substitutes the division’s email address for the physical address, and requires county supervisors of elections to do likewise for qualifying candidates in county and local races.

Qualifying deadlines will not change. Qualifying paper checks are still required, and must be delivered, either by mail or delivery service.

A second emergency rule (20-2) addressed the petition process, removing the requirement “that the voter’s signature on a candidate petition be an ‘original, ink signature’ so that signed petitions can be collected without person-to-person contact.”

The justification here is coronavirus driven, as “the spread of the virus … makes it more difficult to collect original signed petitions in order to access the ballot by the petition method.”

Emails conferring this guidance went to candidates Friday, via Kristi Reid Willis, Chief of the Bureau of Election Records.

The move was a step in the right direction for the Florida Democrats, but party chair Terrie Rizzo contends that “in addition to allowing petitions to be circulated and collected digitally, Secretary Lee should also extend the deadline as we originally requested.”

The order comes after repeated pleas from a bipartisan group of candidates asking for the qualification process to be altered for the coronavirus era.

The group of candidates, now at 42, has asked ballot fees be waived after previously calling for a change in deadlines to meet petition gathering requirements.

Their argument mirrored the Department of State’s logic in issuing Friday’s executive order: social distancing is paramount, but it also stymies choice at the ballot box since many down-ballot candidates cannot scrounge the funds to pay the ballot fee in lieu of qualifying by petition.

It costs about $1,800 to make the ballot by check for state legislative candidates. Congressional aspirants need to cough up more than $10,000.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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