Elections Chiefs Give Advice on Voting

Oct 8, 2020

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Elections supervisors in the Panhandle are urging voters to have their ducks in a row when casting their ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

David Stafford of Escambia County, Santa Rosa’s Tappie Villane and Paul Lux from Okaloosa County appeared together Thursday to go over procedures and rules.

Stafford expects to reach record vote-by-mai levels in Florida — thanks in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, the voting methods were evenly divided statewide.

“We had a third of the votes that were cast early; a third that were cast by mail, and a third that were cast on Election Day,” Stafford said. “Correct me here, but I suspect that percentage of vote-by-mail ballots is going to be higher than a third when you look statewide. We’ll have to see what comes of that.”

If you plan to vote by mail, the supervisors say it’s a good idea to devise a plan. Stafford says that plan should begin with the basics – after requesting your ballot online, on the phone.

“The United States Postal Service recommends that you allow no less than one week for it to arrive at its destination,” said Stafford. “That would be a week in advance of Election Day [Oct. 27]. So if you get beyond that, you really want to look at hand-delivering that ballot either to an early voting site, or to our office.”

All ballots must be received by the 67 county elections offices no later than 7:00 pm on Election Day. The exceptions are the small number of overseas voters. The other point from Stafford — and perhaps the most important — is the signature on your mail-in ballot.

“You would be surprised at the number of [ballots] that come back unsigned,” said Stafford. “Florida has a process where we will reach out to the voter and let them know there’s an issue with their signature. Take some time to sign it – don’t just put your initials on there. Sign your name as you normally would sign it; we verify that against your signature that’s on file.”

The supervisors spoke on various voting topics. For Santa Rosa’s Tappie Villane, it was early voting and protecting against the coronavirus pandemic.

“For our poll workers we provide masks, gloves, face shields, Plexiglas four our check-in tables,” Villane said. “Lots of hand sanitizers, not only for our poll workers but also for voters. So we’ve also had to go back and do a lot of training with the folks that work Election Day and during the early voting sites.”

Social distancing is also a key to a safe election experience.

“Making sure that the voting room is not getting too crowded; that voting booths are spread apart, and if the room is getting too crowded, making sure that we hold people at the door until that crowd subsides.”

Early voting is set up for 7 a.m-7 p.m. Oct. 19-31 in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.

“Early voting is different from Election Day because you can go to any one of the early voting and cast a ballot; on Election Day, you have to go to the precinct where you live,” said Villane. “The number of sites vary from county to county, so you can visit any one of our websites and that will give you that information.”

Many will forego mail-in and early voting, in favor of showing up at their precinct on November 3. Okaloosa County Supervisor Paul Lux started off his talk with the ballot they’ll be handed at their polling place. Nearby was a three-page sample, and at the top is the highest-profile race — for the White House.

“But then all of your local races are going to follow right behind that,” said Lux. “then you have the judicial merit retention questions. Any other local races of a non-partisan nature will fall right after those – city races or fire districts, things like that. And then you get to start in on the amendments.”

Six proposed constitutional amendments are on the ballot, covering issues such as raising the minimum wage; who can vote, ending the current primary voting system and reducing local property taxes. Lux advises voters to show up prepared.

“We have generic sample ballots for everybody that are also available on the website that you can download,” said Lux. “Take it with you; use it as a ‘cheat sheet’ to make marking your ballot faster. Read those amendments ahead of time; study them, figure out how you want to vote, mark your sample ballot and take that with you when you go vote.”

And while individual county election offices have different ways of running things in some respects, Lux says some common threads run through all 67 county offices.

“Election Day is the last chance, it’s the last day you can vote – and that is Nov. 3 – it’s on Tuesday,” Lux reminded everyone. “Ignore all those Facebook warnings about voting on other days – that’s all nonsense – everybody votes on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the last day to vote. All of our polling places, by law, open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.”

More information is available at your county’s supervisor of elections office, and at the Florida Division of Elections website.