Rights advocates warn of potential roadblocks as early voting continues in Florida

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

Voting-rights organizations warned Floridians Tuesday about pitfalls they may encounter during the remaining days of voting in the General Election and leaned on local supervisors of elections to ensure the right to freely cast ballots.

They scored one victory almost immediately, when the Duval County canvassing board agreed to allow a livestream broadcast of the vote count, although officials still plan to ban news cameras, as New4Jax has reported.

Previously, the officials argued they were attempting to shield private voter information. However, Brad Ashwell, state director for All Voting is Local, argued during a Zoom news conference that the original plan ran counter to Florida’s open-government laws.

“It does nothing to instill confidence in our officials who are sworn to uphold voters’ rights,” he said before the board reversed course. “We really feel strongly that this board should be transparent in how the ballots are handled, how the ballots are marked and interpreted and the process they’re using for signature verification.”

The news conference was timed to exactly one week before Nov. 3, the designated eelction date, although early voting by mail and in person has been going on for weeks. As of Tuesday, more than 3.9 million voters had cast mail-in ballot and more than 2.5 million had voted early in person, according to Division of Elections data.

Here’s the breakdown for voting by mail thus far: Republican, 1,213,630; Democrats, 1,828,177; no political affiliation (NPA), 817,158; and “other,” 48,320. Early in-person: Republican, 1,176,216; Democrats, 860,690; NPA, 464,681; other, 32,121.

Hogan also drew criticism for removing early voting facilities from Edward Waters College, in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and from the University of North Florida, serving students.

Moné Holder. Credit: New Florida Majority

Moné Holder, senior program director for the New Florida Majority, called it “voter supression.”

Activists also alleged that Hogan declined to meet with them to discuss their concerns until it was too late to make any changes.

Duval supervisor Mike Hogan “has really risen to our attention as one of the bad actors in the state, and it’s unfortunate,” Ashwell said.

“Even if he does nothing, voters can protect their votes by making sure their ballots are properly signed or they can go vote in person,” Ashwell added. Additionally, they can track their votes on local supervisors’ webpages and seek to cure any problems.

He did praise Hogan for making drop boxes for mail-in ballots more widely available, including at drive-through facilities.

Hogan has yet to respond to an emailed request for comment.

Corryn Freeman, director of the Florida For All Education Fund, advised voters not to place ballots in the mail at this point, given the Trump administration’s efforts to slow down the U.S. Postal Service.

Trump has insisted with no evidence that voting by mail is ripe for fraud, although COVID-19 has led to a surge in that method of casting ballots.

She criticized Broward County for placing ballot-drop boxes inside early-voting sites, forcing voters to wait in line with in-person early voters and placing people at risk. They should be placed curbside so people can drive through and vote, she said.

Juanica Fernandes, executive director of State Voices Florida, urged supervisors to post notices of changes to voting facilities prominently on their websites.

She also asked that they not completely reject ballots cast by voters whose change-of-address forms weren’t entered before supervisors sent out their vote-by-mail ballots. She suggested officials at least could count votes for federal or state offices not affected by a voter’s mailing address.

“I don’t believe this is such a complex or hard issue that can’t be solved,” she said.

And she pointed to disparities in the rate of ballot cures — that is, steps taken by voters to repair flawed ballots by, for example, signing an affidavit attesting that they cast the ballot if their signatures don’t seem to match.

Thus far, the cure rate for white voters is 56 percent but for blacks only 23 percent and for Hispanics only 18 percent.

The speakers pointed  voters to a help line they can call if they have problems: 866-OUR-VOTE, or 866-687-8683.

“We really want to make clear that as much as we feel like it’s incumbent on us to highlight deficiencies in administrative processes that are making it unnecessarily difficult for voters, that ultimately there are solutions for all of these issues, said Sam Coodley, statewide voting rights organizer for the ACLU of Florida.

“None of this should be making any voter say, ‘I can’t vote’ or that “My vote doesn’t count.’ In every single one of these counties there are options for folks.”