Florida election problems? What election problems?

Orlando voting
Experts think Florida's in good shape for problem-free election.

Contrary to dire national warnings, some emanating from President Donald Trump, Florida voters should not anticipate any unusual or serious problems with the General Election.

That was the message of Orange County’s longtime Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, renowned elections law lawyer Barry Richard, and Charley Olena at Voting Rights Lab, who all expressed cross-your-fingers confidence Thursday during a presentation to Florida journalists.

If there are any concerns, they involve delays in final results, which could change over the course of the evening on Nov. 3.

In the case of razor-thin elections, as Florida saw in 2018, official final results could take a couple of weeks to sort out. But that’s not a bad thing, the panelists insisted Thursday; that’s the process doing what the process is designed to do to assure accurate results.

“I trust the process. It’s the unknown: what will tomorrow bring, what challenges, do we have enough of this, do we have enough of that, and how are we going to respond,” Cowles said. “We are positioning ourselves to have a good election?”

Richard, the lawyer for George W. Bush during Florida recount litigation in 2000, and Cowles, a seven-term Supervisor of Elections, dismissed fears of voter fraud on any effective scale as nearly impossible and highly unlikely. They dismissed the ballot problems Florida experienced in 2000 as no longer possible with the changes made since.

There can be no influx of out-of-state poll watchers because Florida law requires them to be residents of the county, with one selected by each party and others, Cowles said. Those names already have been submitted and are being reviewed. Aside from them, people voting, and poll workers, everyone else has to stay at least 150 feet away from the polling site.

He and Richard dismissed the prospects of voter intimidation. Cowles said he is not hearing of any reports of intimidation from early voting sites.

Richard also dismissed the prospect raised in some quarters that the Florida Legislature could overrule voters and appoint its own set of presidential electors. Florida law does not allow for that, he said. And he dismissed the prospects of postelection litigation gumming up results because he expects courts would deal swiftly with any legal challenges.

“The one problem I anticipate we’re going to have is delay. And delay in itself is not a problem. It’s the nature of the system,” Richard said.

“Part of this, of course, this year, is it is particularly acute because of the large number of people voting by mail and voting early. If there is a problem this time it’s because of the dichotomy between the early voting by mail and early voting at the polls and voting on Election Day,” Richard added. “The fact is, statistical analysis and surveys show that many more Democrats are voting by mail and voting at the polls early, and then Republicans are expected to vote in larger numbers on Election Day.”

That could lead to what is being called the election mirage: the idea that early posted returns will favor one party, while later returns could change the outcome.

Cowles laid out the timeline:

— Most county Supervisors of Elections Office already are processing mail ballots and early polling place ballots and those will be posted fairly quickly after the polls close Nov. 3. General Election Day balloting will follow that evening, but only for unofficial results.

— If ballots are rejected due to such issues as signature match problems, voters have until 5 p.m. Nov. 5 to submit affidavits seeking to cure them.

— Supervisors are to send their first set of unofficial results to the Division of Elections on Nov. 7.

— If elections require recounts, if margins are less than 1/2 of 1 percent, as in 2018, recounts have to be finished by Nov. 12, and recount results have to be in by 3 p.m. that day.

— Some military overseas voters’ mail-in ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 13.

— Official results are reported to the state on Nov. 15.

— On Nov. 17, the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission is to certify results.

— Safe Harbor is declared Dec. 8, meaning no more changes can be made.

— Florida’s Electoral College electors meet on Dec. 14 to formally cast their votes in the presidential election.

“We just need to let the system run out because it works. Even though Trump has done his best to convince people that the system does not have integrity, I think most Americans truly believe that it does and it will work itself out and we will have a President when it is over,” Richard said.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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