Florida Democratic primary amidst pandemic
The 2020 Democratic primaries resume with the next three states: Arizona, Illinois and Florida.
As voters continue to decide who will be President Donald Trump’s challenger between former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a new nationwide topic of concern has nearly eclipsed the race: the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time, voters are going to the polls in the midst of a national emergency, which could be a considerable health risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised “social distancing” as a way to curb the rising number of cases. Going to polling stations to vote almost guarantees crowded venues and goes against the safety precautions laid out both by the CDC and the federal government.
For the Floridian voters who wished to safely vote, the deadline to mail in their ballots was on March 7, a full 10 days before Tuesday’s primary. Early voting occurred March 7 through March 14, though some counties opted for longer periods, according to official statements made by Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee.
Louisiana and Ohio pushed back their primaries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One serious concern with not postponing votes was the health of both the voters and the poll workers.
This strand of the coronavirus is more lethal than the flu in most demographics, but the virus’ severity is much higher in those over 60 and with immune system compromising conditions.
“The average poll worker, 35% of them are between the ages of 65 and 71, and 25% are over the age of 70,” according to Vote.org.
Necessary precautions could result in fewer older poll workers at stations. Patricia Brigham, the president for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV), said in a statement that it’ll be up to the supervisors of Elections for each Florida county to compensate for that problem.
“Secretary Lee did make it clear that if someone were not able to turn in their own ballot that they could sign their own affidavit to have someone do it for them,” Brigham said.
Misinformation and lack of transparency have been an additional issue that Florida’s voting system has had to deal with alongside the pandemic.
“Obviously with this pandemic that we are now facing, that messaging is changing,” Brigham said. “So, we wrote to Secretary Lee to ask that she makes clear on the Florida Department of Elections website in letting people know that many polling places have been relocated.”
The relocations are due to many polling stations being located in and near retirement homes.
“We became very concerned because we didn’t see any information posted on the Department of State’s website about these relocations,” Brigham said.
“We have been encouraging that information be made available because our concern is that the voters that venture out to their polling places arrive thinking they’re at the right one and then find out that they’re not,” Brigham said.
Brigham went on to say that there “could've been a lot more transparency and public education” coming from Florida’s Department of Elections.
Polling stations throughout Florida are equipped with hand sanitizer and hand wipe stations for the voters to use. Voters can also find these cleaning essentials in voting booth areas for objects like styluses, tablets and tables. Voters are allowed to wear masks and gloves, but they must dispose of them before leaving.
Both Vote.org and Florida’s LWV have reiterated the official statements on personal hygiene. The LWV sent a letter to the various Supervisor of Elections to ensure that the stations were as sanitary as possible.
The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections could not be reached for comments on this story.
By Benjamin Wainer