By Moné Holder – As the Primary Election approaches and COVID-19 cases continue to hit record numbers in Florida, it forces many Floridians to ask themselves: should I protect my vote or protect my life? For Black and Brown communities, exercising our right to vote is how we save our lives.
The Primary Election, which is August 18th, will be unlike any election we’ve experienced in the past, but we cannot let COVID-19 silence our vote.
The Presidential Preference Primary in March gave us a glimpse of what our elections could look like if things go wrong: confused voters, missing poll workers, long lines at the polls and closed polling locations. Voter turnout was low and residents felt defeated.
After these incidents and amidst rising safety concerns, The Florida Supervisors of Elections Association—the group that will administer our elections this August and November—asked Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration to implement changes to keep our voters safe in April. After waiting months to respond, he rejected most of their suggestions.
So, what will the general election look like in Florida?
We call on the state government in Tallahassee to make the changes needed to keep our elections safe this November. However, we lack the confidence that the government has the courage or the conviction to do so. We fear that the DeSantis administration would rather listen to the false rhetoric of the President of the United States than stand up for the people he swore to represent. Instead, we are laying our hopes and the hopes and safety of Florida’s voters with the Supervisors of Elections themselves. Even without the full support of the Governor, Florida Supervisors of Elections still have the power to make the changes we need.
We know this because, in the long months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of them have already taken steps to protect voters, including offering testing at early voting sites in Duval County, expanding vote-by-mail drop boxes at early voting sites and polling locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. They also sent informational mailers to all registered voters in Palm Beach and Leon Counties detailing how people can register to vote online and sign-up for vote-by-mail.
However, there is still so much more work to be done. That’s why Florida for All Education Fund, a coalition of organizations in Florida committed to ensuring our democracy includes all people, is sending the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association a letter imploring all Supervisors to take similar steps as their fellow Supervisors from the aforementioned counties in Florida.
We ask for simple reforms including expanding early voting to the maximum number of allowed days, sending vote by mail applications to registered voters in their districts if they have not already done so, and beginning or expanding drive-thru or curbside vote-by-mail drop off locations.
None of these actions require us to wait for DeSantis to change his mind and prioritize protecting Florida voters from the pandemic. We fear, even if such a change of heart happens, it will be too late. We need to act now, and Supervisors of Elections can do so if they choose to.
We also encourage residents to request a vote-by-mail ballot now for the General Election in November or sit with your family and friends to create a voting plan. You can request a vote-by-mail ballot at newmajority.vote. Voting by mail will be crucial for our communities in this election, and the stakes are too high for our families, our communities, and our state to sit on the sidelines.
Together, we know we can make it so no Florida voter has to choose between risking their health and expressing their fundamental democratic rights this August and November.
Moné Holder is the Senior Program Director of Policy, Advocacy & Research for the New Florida Majority.