TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As the coronavirus crisis continues to upend most aspects of American life, voting rights advocates are pressuring state leaders to adjust Florida's election system to the new reality, as well, including a wholesale expansion of mail-in balloting.
Here's five questions asked and answered about what the advocates are pushing for, why they feel its necessary, and how their calls to action are being received:
1. Since Florida already has a vote-by-mail option, what more could be offered?
Currently, voters must request mail ballots, and they must be received by election supervisors no later than 7 p.m. on the day of an election. The voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida and All Voting is Local, are preparing to call on Secretary of State Laurel Lee to issue an order allowing mail-in ballots received up to 10 days after an election to be counted, just as overseas and military vote-by-mail ballots are treated now.
They also plan to ask Lee to mandate that supervisors include pre-paid postage on ballot envelopes. Meanwhile, some election reformers are demanding that all registered voters be sent a mail-in ballot, regardless of whether they've requested one.
2. Will the coronavirus crisis dictate a need for expanded voting options?
It's too soon to say definitively. Some scientists are suggesting, however, that despite this spring's aggressive mitigation efforts, there could be a subsequent wave of coronavirus infections in the fall - right around the time of the 2020 presidential election.
Brad Ashwell, a Tallahassee lobbyist for All Voting is Local, says it's paramount the state not be caught off-guard.
"We don't have to choose between our public health and our democracy. One of the great things we have are options. We have vote by mail, we have early voting. This election needs to happen, and we have enough time where we can make it happen right, but we just have to make sure it happens safely. Vote by mail is a really clear direction for that," Ashwell said in an interview.
3. What is being done at the federal level?
Florida will be a recipient of some of the $400 million allocated to states for election infrastructure improvements under the coronavirus relief CARES act, which President Trump signed late last month. Additionally, a new bill on Capitol Hill would mandate that all states offer a vote-by-mail option if at least 25 percent of states remain under pandemic emergency declarations within 180 days of a primary or general election this year.
Under the legislation, ballots could be downloaded and printed by voters, and those postmarked on Election Day would still count.
4. How are the calls to expand mail-in balloting being received?
While state leaders have yet to weigh in, President Trump is decidedly opposed to expanding voting-by-mail, a system that in Florida has historically advantaged Democrats.
"It shouldn't be mail-in voting. It should be, you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself. You don't send it in the mail, where all sorts of bad things can happen by the time they sign that, if they sign that," the president told reporters last week.
5. What happens next?
The voting groups plan to make their request to Lee via letter later this week.