Elections supervisors throughout Florida said on Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to “act immediately” to take steps to alleviate strains the pandemic has placed on the state’s voting systems.
In a letter they sent on April 7, the 67 county supervisors of elections asked the governor to make emergency changes in rules, with elections looming this year.
The supervisors also want DeSantis to access $20.2 million in federal money to help pay for various changes.
Primaries for congressional, county and state legislative nominations and nonpartisan elections for school board and judges scheduled for on Aug. 18. However, mail ballots for military and overseas voters will be mailed on July 4, and early voting begins on Aug. 3 in some counties.
“Our request for executive action cannot wait any longer,” Craig Latimer, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections, wrote in Wednesday’s follow up to DeSantis.
Secretary of State Laurel Lee said she spoke with Latimer on Wednesday, and that her agency, which oversees elections in Florida, is “continuing our work with federal and local officials to promote accurate and fair elections for all Floridians.”
Latimer, who serves as the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, took over last Monday as president of the association. In the letter, he said supervisors “are confident we can overcome the challenges of the current health crisis with executive action that gives us more flexibility around in-person voting and Vote By Mail.”
During in-person voting, he said people can expect limits on the number of voters allowed inside at any given time, and will likely see social-distancing markings.
Most supervisors of elections in the state are expecting a significant increase in voting by mail.
Attention Palm Beach County! Please see this important announcement from the Clerk & Comptroller, Palm Beach County about their offices reopening to the public on Monday, May 11, 2020. https://t.co/wQ2clhZId4
— Wendy Sartory Link, PBC Supervisor of Elections (@pbcelections) May 8, 2020
Some of the supervisors are also concerned that they will not have the usual number of required poll workers due to concerns about the virus. As a solution, they want the ability to offer early voting at more sites than state law currently allows, and to operate those sites through Election Day, rather than through the preceding Sunday.
“The ability to designate additional early voting sites and use those sites through Election Day resolves a critical issue for many counties — a shortage of Election Day polling locations and poll workers,” Latimer wrote.
Since the governor has broad emergency powers, officials are now assessing the extent of his authority to waive longstanding election laws and to impose new rules during the pandemic.
“It is important for the Department of State that it be clear that this is a collaborative effort whereby we are working with Supervisors of Elections to ensure access to democracy and elections while also maintaining public health and safety,” Lee said in a written statement.
Latimer also wrote to DeSantis that he is concerned that “Florida is lagging behind nearly every other state” in claiming and using its $20.2 million share of $400 million in federal funds that has been reserved for states to run elections this year.
“While we wait, the goods and services are becoming scarce,” Latimer wrote. ‘We must start ordering supplies, recruiting and training poll workers, and secure voting locations now.”
Lee said she spoke on Wednesday with Commissioner Donald Palmer of the Federal Election Assistance Commission, which distributes the money, regarding Florida’s voting plans for this year.
He explained that the state must first address a requirement that Florida match the federal money with $4 million of its own funds before receiving the $20.2 million.
Guidelines from the commission allow Florida to count money spent by county supervisors of elections offices for coronavirus-related needs for the presidential primary, which was held March 17.