Despite President Trump’s criticisms, FL elections supervisors say mail-in ballots are safe

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

Regardless of what President Donald Trump thinks, says and tweets, Florida elections supervisors are urging voters to request mail-in ballots to ensure every valid vote is counted as the presidential election looms.

“Voting by mail is a safe way to go. It’s a secure process in Florida. In my 26 years of elections experience, I’ve seen no cases of fraud,” said Tammy Jones, longtime elections supervisor in Levy County and immediate past president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.

Trump’s widely reported condemnation of voting by mail – calling it “dangerous” and “corrupt” – is itself a fraud, according to FactCheck.org at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

FactCheck.org reports: “There is no evidence to back up Trump’s blanket claim that ‘mailed ballots are corrupt.’ Voting experts say the president is exaggerating when he says mail ballots are ‘fraudulent in many cases.’ While the instances of voter fraud via mail-in or absentee ballots are more common than in-person voting fraud, the number of known cases is relatively rare.”

Requests for mail-in ballots will be about twice as heavy as usual in most counties, officials say, especially those most infected with COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic may or may not be over by the November election, and Florida is expected to be a swing state as Trump pushes for re-election.

“What we want more than anything else during the COVID crisis is to have all Florida voters request ballots now so they will have all options,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. She said there is no evidence to support high-profile allegations of fraud in by-mail voting and no reason to doubt that the U.S. Postal Service reliably delivers ballots.

“The League has looked at this carefully, and we wouldn’t recommend voting by mail if we believed it isn’t safe,” Brigham said. “The concerns are, unfortunately, mostly partisan.”

Jones said she is conscientiously nonpartisan in her work but disputes Trump’s allegations. “I disagree with that message [from the president],” she said.

Jones also reiterated her recommendation that Florida voters request mail-in ballots now, even if they decide later to cast their votes in person.

New voters must register no later than July 20 to vote in Aug. 18 primary elections and no later than Oct. 5 to vote in the general election, including the presidential election, on Nov. 3. Credit: League of Women Voters of Florida

She said the coronavirus pandemic makes voting by mail an ideal solution for conducting safe elections, without forcing voters or poll workers to risk exposure to the disease at polling stations on Election Day.

Jones also said she has no doubts about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, hard hit by coronavirus and competition from private shippers, as reported in the New York Times.

Trump, who famously called the Postal Service “a joke,” as reported by Reuters and other news media, has refused to release Congressionally authorized loans to the agency unless it drastically increases its shipping rates.

“The Post Office works really hard on elections … even with their financial problems,” Jones said. “We depend on it to deliver ballots. We can’t use UPS or FedEx. We need to ensure the Post Office remains able to do its job. Vote-by-mail ballots need to be safeguarded.”

Elections supervisors are seeking innovation and funding to help them conduct primary elections on Aug. 18 and the general election on Nov. 3. (Florida already conducted the presidential preference primary election in March.)

The Florida Supervisors of Elections have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to authorize supervisors to expand opportunities to vote by mail, vote early, and vote safely in polling stations without undue exposure to COVID-19. The League of Women Voters supports those actions.

The supervisors insisted in April 7 and May 13 letters  to the governor that he grant them that flexibility by executive order and that he request $20.25 million in federal grants from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorized on March 27 to help purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers, supply postage-paid balloting envelopes, and otherwise make elections safer in the midst of the pandemic than they were in the March primaries. The federal funds require a $4 million state match.

“I write to ask that you act immediately to address what our state’s 67 elections experts have recommended. We 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, and secures much-needed CARES Act funding to protect our voters,” wrote the supervisors’ new president, Craig Latimer, elections supervisor in Hillsborough County.

“I also want to express my concern that Florida is lagging behind nearly every other state in securing CARES Act funding for elections. While we wait, the goods and services we need are becoming scarce,” Latimer wrote. “The Department of State has surveyed all Supervisors of Elections to find out the most pressing needs for funding related to COVID-19. We must start ordering supplies, recruiting and training poll workers, and securing voting locations now.”

That letter, dated May 13, followed demands by Florida Democrats in Congress and the Legislature that Gov. DeSantis stop delaying the request for the grant funds, as described in a statement issued by the Florida Democratic Party.

Last Friday, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee filed an official request for the funds, weeks after most other states requested theirs, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

Brigham and Jones said the funds will help prevent the kinds of problems experienced in March, as coronavirus erupted in Florida. Stalwart poll workers in Florida declined to volunteer on Election Day and some voters declined to vote and others risked potential exposure to the virus at polling sites, Brigham said, citing elections reports.

Key dates on the elections calendars are: Register to vote by July 20 for the Aug. 18 primary and by Oct. 5 for the Nov. 3 general election. Request vote-by-mail ballots now from local elections supervisors, even if a voter decides later to vote in person instead.

Jones and Brigham urged voters to update their voter information and especially their signatures, to ensure a match when local supervisors check mailed-in ballot signatures against voter signatures on file.