Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner, left, shakes hands with a newly-registered voter, Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Alan Rhyelle on Jan. 8, 2019. (ACLU of Florida)

It’s a presidential election year, which means experts are already predicting record-setting turnout in November. Florida is the nation’s largest swing state, and once again, Florida voters will play a key role in determining who our next president will be in November. But, the presidential election is not the only crucial election Floridians will engage in this year. As Tip O'Neill famously said, “All politics is local,” and local and state officials will play a critical role in ensuring that Floridians have equal and unencumbered access to the polls.

At the ACLU of Florida, we’re pushing Florida officials to adopt policies that improve voter registration procedures and the voting process, to ensure more citizen participation in our elections.  Due to unprecedented increases in state and federal funding for election protection, triggered by foreign interference in the 2016 elections, the State has  the great opportunity to improve election administration procedures.

In Florida, each of our 67 counties has its own supervisor of elections (SOE) and that individual has a wide degree of discretion on issues governing access to the polls. That includes: determining the number of early voting days available to voters in their county; the accessibility of polling locations; and the signature matching process for vote-by-mail ballots. Unfortunately, policies on these issues vary widely throughout the state.

As the SOE is largely responsible for ensuring the administration of elections in their county, engaging with them and their staff on how to improve access to the ballot box can greatly increase local participation in our elections. And, this is something anyone can do locally!

Increase early voting days across the state

  • Each county should provide for the maximum number of early voting days possible. 
  • Early voting days should include the Sunday before Election Day.

By law, each county must provide for early voting starting at least 10 days before Election Day and ending no sooner than three days before that day. But counties, according to their own discretion, can expand the number of early voting days, starting two weeks before Election Day and can also include the Sunday before Election Day. Most Floridians have more flexibility on weekends, allowing them to coordinate childcare and transportation to the polls. Additionally, the Sunday before Election Day or “Souls to the Polls” is a major day African American churches across the country coordinate transportation to polling locations. In many counties, the number of voters taking advantage of early voting peaks on the Sunday before Election Day, making it a prime reason why SOEs across the state should take full advantage of allowing for the maximum number of early voting days possible in their county.

In order to increase early voting days in your county, urge your SOE to:

  • Provide the most early voting days and hours possible.
  • Publicize early voting opportunities throughout the county.

Ensure fair and uniform vote-by-mail (VBM) procedures and signature matching

During every election cycle, thousands of vote-by-mail ballots are not  returned to supervisors of elections on time or are rejected by county canvassing boards for a variety of reasons. Two principal reasons for the rejection of a vote-by-mail ballot are due to a missing or signature mismatch, meaning the  signature on the envelope bearing the ballot does not “sufficiently” match the signature on file for that voter. When there is a signature mismatch, often, these rejections are arbitrary and because Florida’s counties do not use standardized coding when documenting the reasons for VBM ballots to be initially rejected, processed, or cured, it makes it difficult to track these problems across the state. 

In order to ensure VBM ballots are counted in all 67 counties, urge your SOE to:

  • Invest in voter education on the vote-by-mail process, signature requirements and other absentee ballot procedures. 
  • Provide follow-up notices to remind voters to return their vote-by-mail ballot.
  • Provide a process for voters to track their vote-by-mail ballots once they are submitted, such as an online portal. 
  • Ensure that county canvassing boards only reject vote-by-mail ballots for legitimate signature mismatch reasons and require “cure” affidavits for voters who challenge the rejection of their ballots.
  • Ensure voters know how to update their signature when they submit their vote-by-mail ballots

Ensure equity and accessibility in the selection of polling locations

Since the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court was gutted in 2013, the nation has seen many polling places closed, especially in communities of color.

In order to increase genuinely accessible polling locations for all Florida citizens, urge your SOE to:

  • Ensure that a sufficient number of polling places exist in communities of color.
  • Ensure that early voting locations exist in all areas of a county and that those locations serve all citizens equally. 
  • When using private facilities as polling places ensure these locations are open and accessible to all. 
  • Use colleges and universities as early voting sites as often as possible.

Facilitate vote-by-mail ballots for people in jail, those experiencing homelessness or attending colleges and universities, and provide voter education for those citizens

It is not necessary for a person to have a fixed address in order to vote. Voters who are experiencing homelessness, attending college, or in jail may have trouble registering to vote and/or voting on Election Day.

For voters who are experiencing homelessness, urge your SOE to:

  • Ensure that early voting and polling sites are located in places accessible to those experiencing homelessness, who may not have personal transportation.
  • Provide postage-paid return envelopes for vote-by-mail ballots or pick up ballots from homeless shelters.
  • Provide voter education forms, flyers and how-to guides for distribution and create kiosks accessible to homeless people for those materials.
  • Provide signage in public spaces across the county to help people understand how they can vote without a traditional address.

For voters in jail, urge your SOE to:

  • Visit the jail and regularly communicate with jail officials to ensure open lines of communication and ease of election administration.
  • Provide voter education forms, flyers and guides for distribution to incarcerated persons. 
  • Provide postage-paid return envelopes for ballots or pick up ballots from the jail.

Get to know your SOE

Not everyone can travel to Tallahassee to lobby their legislators, but there is a lot you can do in your local community by simply spending time with your local supervisor of elections. Find your SOE office here!

As local officials, SOEs are accountable to all of us to run secure and efficient elections. Here’s what you can do to start advocating for these reforms: 

  1. Set up a meeting with your local SOE or their office and be specific about why you want to meet with your SOE and cover the issues we’ve outlined above. 
  2. Let them know you want to help and will be sharing what you learn with your fellow advocates and interested community members. 
  3. Once your meeting is set-up let us know you’ve scheduled a meeting or if you need help advocating locally by contacting our Statewide Voting Rights Organizer Sam at scoodley@aclufl.org
  4. Please submit what you learn from the meeting through by completing this form

We’re so excited you’re interested in making our elections process more fair equitable across the state. 

Start today – and let’s do all we can to ensure 2020 is a smooth and secure election!

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