Florida Primary: “A Success” Despite Coronavirus Fears

Florida Voting 2020

Image via Desirée Tapia for The Americano

By Giselle Balido

March 18, 2020

With 314 cases confirmed in the state, some voters stayed away from the polls, while a record number of Democrats voted by mail.   

Despite the growing fears of novel coronavirus contagion that kept some voters away from the polls, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee declared Florida’s presidential primary “a success.”

But while election date turnout was down from 2016, Florida Democrats voted by mail in record numbers. Surpassing the 2016 primary, by Tuesday nearly 3,000 more Democratic votes had been cast in the 2020 primary in which presidential hopeful Joe Biden handily bested Bernie Sanders by nearly 40 points, as projected. 

Voting “Hiccups”

Still, Lee acknowledged there had been “some challenges.” Several Palm Beach County precincts opened late and three never opened at all because poll workers did not show. A precinct at a Hollywood church didn’t open until after 8 a.m. because there was no one to open the doors, while some voters complained that one located at a West Kendall school did not offer hand sanitizing stands as the voters  headed in. Others claimed they were not able to cast a ballot at their originally assigned precinct, although, according to Lee, they were given an opportunity to vote “either at an alternate precinct… or by going to the supervisors’ office to cast a vote by mail ballot in person.”  In a state with nearly 6,000 precincts, Lee called these problems “isolated.”  

But not everyone agrees with this optimistic assessment. While at the governor’s recommendation local elections officials moved voting precincts out of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect residents, Florida Democratic Party officials said state and local officials failed to notify voters of their relocated precincts. The result was voter turnout that ranged from light to medium.

Pending Lawsuit

On Monday before the primaries, a coalition of racial justice organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Lee’s refusal to extend the vote-by-mail ballot deadlines –among other safety measures–  despite advice from public health officials, violated the constitutional rights of Florida voters under the Fourteenth Amendment. The coalition, which includes Latino Justice PRLDEF, Advancement Project, New Florida Majority, Demos and Organize Florida, asks the court to extend the deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot to March 27; to allow voters to request ballots be sent to them via email or fax; permit third-party individuals to collect ballots from those utilizing vote-by-mail and drop off these ballots at the drop boxes; and allow voters to submit their ballot via fax. According to a spokesperson from LatinoJustice PRLDEF in Orlando, on Tuesday the U.S. District Court of the Northern District denied the request for a preliminary injunction, saying it would issue further instructions after the primary. At this time, Lee has not responded nor commented on the lawsuit.



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