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FILE - In this March 10, 2020, file photo wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, in Seattle. But the 2020 presidential election is creeping ever closer, and there are no signs yet of pandemic abating, nor any word on when Americans on orders to stay home can resume normal life, and so lawmakers are trying to figure how to allow for voting in a world where face-to-face contact causes anxiety at the least, and sickness and death at the most. (AP Photo/John Froschauer, File)
FILE - In this March 10, 2020, file photo wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, in Seattle. But the 2020 presidential election is creeping ever closer, and there are no signs yet of pandemic abating, nor any word on when Americans on orders to stay home can resume normal life, and so lawmakers are trying to figure how to allow for voting in a world where face-to-face contact causes anxiety at the least, and sickness and death at the most. (AP Photo/John Froschauer, File)

Coronavirus in Florida

Voting advocates say Ron DeSantis must act faster to secure election pandemic funding

Florida hasn’t fully accessed CARES Act funding.

Voting rights group say Gov. Ron DeSantis must act faster to secure federal funding and ensure smooth elections this fall.

The League of Women Voters of Florida hosted a tele-press conference Wednesday arguing Florida hasn’t done enough to address the urgent needs of election supervisors during the ongoing pandemic.

“We call on Gov. DeSantis to meet the needs of Supervisors of Elections and most importantly Florida voters,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League’s state chapter.

A total of 33 different groups joined in asking the state to promptly access federal resources available through the CARES Act.

The CARES Act included $400 million in emergency funding through the Help America Vote Act in order to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.

Florida’s county Supervisors of Elections sent a letter to DeSantis April 7 asking for assistance. That came after many offices had to scramble during the March Presidential Preference Primary after poll workers refused to work at precinct locations.

Polling call-outs seemed warranted after poll workers in Duval and Broward counties tested positive for COVID-19.

While some advocates have called for complete mail-in elections in 2020 because of the pandemic, Florida elections supervisors maintain that would be logistically impossible ahead of the August primary or November general election. But they do anticipate a record number of voters requesting  to vote-by-mail this year.

The League of Women Voters has encouraged all voters to apply now to receive a vote-by-mail ballot, Brigham said, and advocates say the least officials can do is send applications for those ballots to all voters now on the rolls.

“Holding an election during a pandemic presents a historic challenge but also a historic opportunity to affirm a commitment to democracy,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida state director for All Voting Is Local.

Liza McClenaghan, chair of Common Cause Florida, expressed some alarm Florida hasn’t acted faster to secure federal funding.

“Time is quickly running out,” she said.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee sent a letter on the matter to the Federal Elections Commission, after Florida elections supervisors on May 13 sent a follow-up letter asking the state to access the CARES Act/HAVA Act funding.

Advocates for minority voters say there are particular challenges for marginalized communities. Disabled voters need privacy addressed while voting at precincts with social distancing measures enforced.

Kira Romero-Craft, managing attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, is part of a lawsuit demanding the state take certain measures to ensure votes get counted, including accepting all vote-by-mail ballots mailed up to the day of an election and extending deadlines for Florida residents to register to vote.

The groups also want more drop-off locations where voters who want to deliver ballots in person can do so without having to enter government offices and have contact with workers.

Kirk Bailey, political director for the ACLU of Florida, stressed that Florida’s record on protecting voters’ rights has been lacking in the past.

“Voting access in Florida is already inequitable and inconsistent, and it often depends on age, race and ZIP code,” he said.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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