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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Elections Supervisors Voice Support For Allowing 'Super Voting' Sites Statewide

Valerie Crowder

Two bills recently filed in the state legislature seek to give every local elections supervisor the option to operate countywide polling sites on Election Day, instead of restricting voters to designated precinct sites.

For the last four election cycles, voters in two counties recovering from Hurricane Michael could cast a ballot at any local polling site.

Two bills recently filed in the state legislature — SB 774 and SB 635 — seek to give every local elections supervisor the option to operate countywide polling sites on Election Day, instead of restricting voters to designated precinct sites.

Hurricane Michael wiped out most of the polling locations in Bay and Gulf Counties weeks before the 2018 midterm elections. Both counties received the flexibility under an emergency order to operate ‘super voting' sites or Election Day polling sites where any registered voter in the county may cast a ballot.

Elections supervisors across the state say super voting sites have the potential to boost turnout, save money and reduce voter confusion.

In Bay County, elections officials say they’ve witnessed these results first-hand. “If it’s easy to vote in the most critical and hardest times to vote — during a pandemic and a hurricane — then it’s a win-win scenario for everybody,” said Mark Andersen, the county’s elections supervisor.

Before Hurricane Michael, the county had 44 precinct polling locations. More than two years after the storm, only 18 of those buildings are back online, Andersen said.

Because the exemption expired after the last election, it’s especially important for the county that the legislation passes, Andersen said. Otherwise, he’ll have to reduce the number of voting precincts to match the shortage of polling sites. “If I can’t get forty-four building locations, I’ve got to create precinct boundaries based on where I can get a voting location inside a boundary.”

State Sen. George Gainer (R-Panama City) and State Rep. Thomas Patterson Maney (R-Shalimar) are the bills’ sponsors. Last year, Gainer introduced a similar proposal, but it died in committee. There was no House version of the bill filed last session.

“We’re hopeful that it will be heard very soon,” Andersen said. The Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Committee on Ethics and Elections for discussion, but it’s not yet been added to the agenda.

Andersen says the rest of the county’s state legislative delegation - state Reps. Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna) and Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) - support the measure. “I’ve talked to all of them,” he said.

The county has saved at least $20,000 per election on poll workers alone, Andersen said. “Seven people at every site times forty-four — it adds up.” For comparison, the county had 14 super voting sites during the last presidential election.

Turnout has also been higher than usual during the last few election cycles, Andersen said.

“It’s worked each time. We had a record turnout in one of the elections,” he said. “The others were a point two or point one in comparison.”

At a recent meeting with the county’s state legislative delegation, one poll worker described the county’s super voting site model as “impeccable” and “efficient.” “If it was done statewide, it would save tons of money,” said Pamela Trowbridge, who’s also worked elections in Miami-Dade County.

Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux says this isn’t the first time county elections offices have pushed state lawmakers to give them flexibility to operate countywide voting sites. But Lux says the technology was more expensive when they studied the issue about a decade ago.

“Of course times and circumstances change. Now we have a much better availability of ballot-on-demand technology down to the precinct level, which makes it so much more likely for it to be implemented well.”

Lux says he's unsure whether he'd set up super voting sites on Election Day in his county. But he says they have the potential to decrease the likelihood that a voter must cast a provisional ballot for showing up to vote in the wrong precinct.

"Chances are that provisional ballot isn’t going to get counted," he said. "When there’s no wrong place to go vote because all the voting locations any voter can attend them, that reduces the number of provisional ballots.”

The proposal is among the Florida Supervisors of Elections legislative priorities, said Craig Latimer, the association’s president. “We’re the ones that are running the elections and generally when we make suggestions, they’re pretty good suggestions,” he said. “We’re not just pulling things out of mid-air.”

Latimer is also Hillsborough County’s elections supervisor. He says he’s seen first-hand how super voting sites have the potential to reduce confusion on Election Day. “I‘ve got to tell you there’s something to be said for it,” he said.

Latimer recalls a recent election during which voters were turned away at a local library on Election Day because the building had also served as an early voting location. “We actually turned away more voters because they weren’t in the right place on Election Day than actually voted there.”
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Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
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