Florida election officials face new challenges as state prepares for mail-in voting during pandemic

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Florida election officials face new challenges as state prepares for mail-in voting during pandemic

MIAMI -- Florida has been notorious for ballot issues stretching from the 2000 election to the problem-plagued 2018 election in Broward County that

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MIAMI — Florida has been notorious for ballot issues stretching from the 2000 election to the problem-plagued 2018 election in Broward County that led to lost votes and messy recounts.

“If one small thing goes wrong, it has a domino effect and it’s bad, wrong in the outcome, if you allow it to happen,” said Broward County Election Supervisor Peter Antonacci.

Antonacci says he knows his county’s reputation. With a massive increase in mail-in ballots, he knows Broward will once again be in the national spotlight amid the 2020 elections.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MAIL-IN VOTING IN 2020

“We worry about that every day, and so performance matters,” he said. “We’re preparing for a lot of vote-by-mail ballots and so that means we’ve acquired additional mailing machines and we’ve put on additional people and we’ve increased our capacity for counting. … We’ve had four elections on my watch here in the last 18 months that have worked out pretty well. So our objective is to put the election on offer for voters so that they can choose to vote any way they want to vote and to deliver accurate and timely results to the public.”

In this year’s general election, Antonacci is planning for a 75% voter turnout of Broward’s 1.2 million registered voters. That means up to 900,000 possible voters. His office is also estimating it could have up to 600,000 ballots mailed. Compare that to the 2016 general election, where voters mailed 278,000 ballots.

Antonacci says he knows his county’s reputation. With a massive increase in mail-in ballots, he knows Broward will once again be in the national spotlight.

Antonacci says he knows his county’s reputation. With a massive increase in mail-in ballots, he knows Broward will once again be in the national spotlight.
(Elina Shirazi)

“Aug. 10 is the last day that we can mail out the vote-by-mail requests. There’s a good reason for that. It’s an effort to do something about procrastination. The later the ballots go out, later they come back. We had thousands and thousands in 2018 that aren’t counted because they came in late. This is an effort of the legislature to try to encourage people to get the ballot in early,” Antonacci said.

Camille Labrador says it’s her first time voting by mail. Even though she prefers voting in person, she says she’s sending her ballot as early as she can to avoid any issues.

“I understand why people might be nervous, especially if you’ve never used an absentee ballot before. There’s something about being in person and actually, you know, going through the process, getting your I voted sticker, that seems just very official,” said Labrador, a Miami voter.

Broward County employees get ready for the influx of mail-in votes in the upcoming election.

Broward County employees get ready for the influx of mail-in votes in the upcoming election.
(Elina Shirazi)

She added, “Another important thing to remember when you’re voting absentee this year is that USPS is not operating at the speed they are typically able to do because of limited resources and the fact that we’re in the middle of a very unfortunate pandemic. So make sure you send your mail-in-ballot early if you’re at all nervous about your vote being counted.”

In this year’s general election, Antonacci is planning for a 75% voter turnout of Broward’s 1.2 million registered voters. That means up to 900,000 possible voters.

In this year’s general election, Antonacci is planning for a 75% voter turnout of Broward’s 1.2 million registered voters. That means up to 900,000 possible voters.
(Elina Shirazi)

Progressive political action committees like Priorities USA are challenging states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, on issues such as ballot deadlines.

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“There are states across the country that have these arbitrary times,” said Aneesa McMillan, the director of voting rights of Priorities USA. “Those say, oh, your ballot has to be by 7 p.m. for it to count or 8 p.m. on Election Day to count and of course, due to delays in the mail system, different issues that could arise are beyond the voter’s control. … What COVID-19 did is really bring to light the fact that, hey, this is a serious issue. This is something we need to take a closer look at.”

Supervisors of elections in multiple Florida counties say they believe up to half of Florida voters will choose to vote by mail in November. For voters looking to vote by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is 10 days before the election.

Supervisors of elections in multiple Florida counties say they believe up to half of Florida voters will choose to vote by mail in November. For voters looking to vote by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is 10 days before the election.
(Elina Shirazi)

Supervisors of elections in multiple Florida counties say they believe up to half of Florida voters will choose to vote by mail in November. For voters looking to vote by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is 10 days before the election. A vote-by-mail ballot must be returned and received no later than 7 p.m. local time on election night to be counted.

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