FLORIDA — State and county election officials, who are planning how to safely open the polls in November with the threat of a pandemic likely still looming in the fall, are urging voters to mail in their ballots.
Staff at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections is pushing the vote by mail message to protect voters, poll workers and people with certain disabilities who need to vote in person.
RELATED: Doing what's right
“This is a call to action to our community,” said Julie Marcus, chief deputy of Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. “We need our voters to look at their voting options, and one of those options is to vote by mail… please consider voting by mail.”
Voting officials told ABC Action News Anchor Paul LaGrone it’s virtually impossible to take the “touch risk” out of the in-person voting experience when it comes to checking identification, handing over ballots and the close proximity of voters at the polls.
“Call your neighbors, call your friends, family – we are imploring the community to take this on as a mission to get through these fall elections safe and participate in our representative democracy,” said Marcus.
It’s an urgent call that’s echoed across the Tampa Bay area.
When asked whether it’s possible to make an election pandemic proof, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said the answer is a team effort with the voters themselves.
“The best thing voters can do right now is go online to vote – votehillsborough.org – find that button and sign up for vote by mail,” said Latimer.
Latimer is also pushing for Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue an executive order that would allow counties to extend early voting up to a full three weeks before the election and allow for more flexibility in the types of locations used for early voting.
Latimer said his biggest concern right now is finding enough poll workers who will show up.
When Florida held its presidential primary in March, hundreds of poll workers across the Tampa Bay region quit in the days leading up to the election over concerns about the coronavirus, leaving local election officials scrambling at the last minute to find enough replacements for polls.
FULL COVERAGE: The Rebound Tampa Bay
“There’s a real concern about the number of poll workers we are going to be able to recruit,” said Latimer. “Most of the poll workers are over 60, so they fall in that category, so we are looking at ways we can access younger people, quite frankly.”
Election officials say voting by mail has never been easier, and voters can sign up on the county’s supervisor of elections website. Once signed up, voters will receive a ballot in the mail to fill out.
Voters can drop off mail-in ballots at early voting sites or drop off locations, which will be vastly expanded this year. Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are also providing free postage, so vote by mail is entirely free.