Thursday, March 19, 2020

In-person voting in Florida was down during coronavirus. Are mail ballots the answer? (Miami Herald)

In today's pandemic, old ways of voting may have to yield to vote by mail. What do y'all think?

In-person voting in Florida was down during coronavirus. Are mail ballots the answer?


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A day after Florida’s presidential primary, when voters came to polls with gloves and workers provided hand sanitizer to help allay fears of coronavirus, calls for sending ballots in the mail to every American as a way to fight the spread of the virus are growing.
Two U.S. Senators introduced a national vote-by-mail plan this week, the Democratic Party called on mail ballots to be made available to all registered voters and a group of advocacy organizations are demanding that the state of Florida allow voters to return a mail ballot if they couldn’t vote on Election Day due to coronavirus fears. 
“It’s critical for us to expand vote-by-mail in these times,” said New Florida Majority executive director Andrea Mercado. “It was really exciting to see more Democrats voting in 2020 than 2016 but while there was more vote-by-mail and early voting, it dipped on Election Day.” 
New Florida Majority and a host of advocacy organizations are suing the state of Florida to allow voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot until March 24 so they can still participate in the presidential preference primary that concluded Tuesday. A federal judge denied their suit to extend the vote-by-mail deadline a day before the election, but they filed a new motion Tuesday evening urging Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission to allow Floridians unable to vote at the polls Tuesday to request and return a vote-by-mail ballot. 
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And as the 2020 Democratic primary enters a 2 1/2 week pause in voting, with states postponingtheir previously scheduled contests, national advocates say there’s time to send a ballot to every American who has yet to vote. 
Amber McReynolds, the CEO of vote-by-mail advocacy group Vote at Home and the former director of elections for Denver, Colorado, said it’s “feasible” for every state to send a ballot by mail to every registered voter in 2020. 
“This global pandemic and public health crisis has directly exposed the very real problems with the in-person voting structure that exists,” McReynolds said. “There’s deficiencies in the process and there’s a better way.” 
McReynolds said states can send a mail ballot to everyone while also maintaining an in-person Election Day voting option. She said states like Florida have the existing equipment and infrastructure to adequately process mail-in ballots. 
“What we’re suggesting is simply mailing a ballot to voters to give them a first chance and maintain some sort of in-person voting structure,” McReynolds said.
But University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith cautioned that the current standards for mail-in ballots in Florida lead to discrepancies where certain votes are rejected in one county but not in others. Smith said young voters, new voters and minorities are more likely to have their mail-in ballot rejected than other groups of voters, and that the rate of rejection varies significantly by county. 
In 2016, an analysis by Smith found 5.3% of mail-in ballots by black voters were rejected in Orange County, 2.7% were rejected in Miami-Dade County but just 0.2% were rejected in Pinellas County. 
“There’s a troubling pattern with respect to the rejection rates of voters who are people of color or younger voters particularly,” Smith said. “How do you explain rejection rates of large counties like Broward [3%] or Miami-Dade [2.5%] in 2018, with rejections of less than 0.2% in Pinellas County?” 
Mercado said Smith’s concerns are important but said, “it’s undeniable that people are more likely to vote when they have a vote-by-mail ballot.” 
And given coronavirus fears, Mercado said the “rewards outweigh the risks” when it comes to sending a ballot to every registered voter in Florida. 
“In times like these, where people are being asked to stay at their homes and avoid going anywhere, I think now is the time for us to drastically expand vote-by-mail to expand our democracy,” Mercado said. 
McReynolds said Florida’s county-by-county system for matching signatures to verify ballots leads to inconsistencies, but said states with universal mail-in voting like Colorado, Oregon and Washington have statewide standards for counting ballots and a better track record of not disenfranchising voters
And while states have the ability to move the date of their primary elections due to the coronavirus, the Nov. 3 general election date is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. 
Ahead of the November election, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced legislation last week to guarantee every voter a secure mail-in paper ballot and help states cover the cost of printing, self-sealing envelopes, ballot tracking and postage.
Their bill, The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, aims to promote social distancing measures by keeping people away from the polls on Election Day and resources for Americans with disabilities to fill out a ballot remotely. 
“Without federal action, Americans might have to choose between casting a ballot and protecting their health,” Wyden and Klobuchar wrote. “That’s wrong, and we must take swift action to address the problem.”
Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said Tuesday the party wants states to mail ballots in every remaining 2020 Democratic primary after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine canceled that state’s contest amid coronavirus fears. 
“States can provide easy access to voting while still taking necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of the American people,” Perez said in a statement. “The simplest tool is vote by mail, which is already in use in a number of states and should be made available to all registered voters.” 
And while Smith is worried about rejection rates for vote-by-mail ballots, he admitted that in-person voting during the coronavirus carries a significant risk for voters and poll workers after he volunteered at the polls in Alachua County on Tuesday. 
“It’s not a great solution to be sending people into polls to have an intimate relationship with a poll worker during early voting or on Election Day,” he said. “I spent 12 hours interacting with voters myself. I certainly did not keep a safe distance with respect to verifying signatures and helping voters.”

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