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Pasco Elections On Hold Due To Coronavirus While Polk Proceeds … With Precautions

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It's going to take more than a pandemic to keep people from voting. At least in Polk County, where just under 15 percent of registered voters went to the polls in six cities. That's about average or a little higher than normal.

"City election turnout is always low, and I've looked back and in all instances it's comparable to previous years, and in some instances maybe a little higher," said Polk Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.

Click HERE to see the election results.

In Pasco County, however, concerns over coronavirus have prompted election officials to request -- and receive -- a delay in three municipal elections.

Poll workers in Polk County were on hand to sanitize every booth after each person voted.

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"We did have good turnout," Edwards said. "So we actually wound up having some lines, because of course we limited the number of people allowed at each polling location at any one time. So that resulted in people being outside or backed up from the door, standing six feet apart."

The Ledger newspaper reported state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, tried unsuccessfully to reach the governor to get him to postpone the elections. Elections supervisor Lori Edwards said she can't do that on her own.

"Election dates are, in law -- or in many instances, in municipal elections, they're in city charters -- and they're very hard to move," Edwards said. "You can't just make up your mind to move an election. Either the city or the governor might have that authority, but it's for certain that the supervisor of elections don't have the authority to change election dates."

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Pasco County has similar elections in three cities next Tuesday. Last week, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that they be postponed until the state primary election in August. Corley said Wednesday he hasn't heard back.

On Wednesday night, DeSantis issued an executive order saying that elections in the cities of San Antonio, Dade City and  Zephyrhills be postponed until a later date.

During Florida’s presidential preference primary in March, Pasco found itself short of more than 200 volunteer poll workers because of fears about contracting the coronavirus.

DeSantis says he’s “fine” if local governments or county supervisors of elections request upcoming general elections or municipal contests be moved to the August 18 statewide primary date. Wednesday's order affecting Pasco did not set a specific date for the election.

Twenty-four municipal elections across nine counties are scheduled in the coming months, prior to the August primary.  DeSantis says he’ll work with local governments that want to move elections.

“Certainly, anyone that requests to me pushing off to August, I don’t think there is any election that couldn’t be done in August," he said. "I don’t think we’d lose much. So, I am happy to work with them on that."

Also, Florida’s election supervisors are asking the governor to give them more time to mail out ballots. They also want to shrink the number of polling sites and start early voting, earlier. The changes are being requested as supervisors anticipate a shortage of poll workers in the coming elections. 

“Accommodations do need to be made and we’re hopeful the governor will listen to the supervisors and those of us who believe these changes are really needed,” said League of Women Voters President Patricia Brigham, who says the group is backing the request.

The League is urging voters to request mail-in-ballots early.

In addition to the supervisors of elections’ requests and a statewide vote-by-mail program, the Florida Democratic Party is also asking that the supervisors of elections and DeSantis also include the following protections to voters:

  • The state should waive or pay for each voter’s return postage on all mail-in ballots.
  • Allow returned mail-in ballots to be postmarked by Election Day.
  • Allow correctly postmarked, returned mail-in ballots to be counted if received by 5 p.m. six days after an election -- while overseas and military ballots are still being received and counted
  • If statewide vote-by-mail is not possible, the state should send a vote-by-mail enrollment form to every registered voter in the state -- with return postage pre-paid
  • If voting centers are established, the state must set standards for fair and equitable demographic, geographic and population distribution of the centers -- so that voters are not forced to wait in long lines as they did during recent primaries in Wisconsin and Texas.

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Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.