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Florida elections supervisors call for election night calm, urge voters to cast ballots early

Voters cast their ballots for the Florida presidential primary on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Fla. Elise Amendola / AP

By John Haughey | The Center Square

A national survey conducted by Strategies 360 and commissioned by the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said voters expect a chaotic finish to the 2020 campaign, including contested vote counts.

However, 54 percent of survey respondents didn’t realize it could take days to finish ballot counts this year because of the anticipated volume in mailed-in ballots. The survey said 52 percent of respondents expected a winner declared within one to three days of Nov. 3.

The survey, released this week, required respondents to read through an explanation on how an expanded mail-in vote and the additional steps required to validate mail-in ballots could foster longer-than-usual delays in posting results.

Afterward, only 38 percent of respondents expected official returns within days of the election, and two-thirds of respondents who expected results on election night said they now realized it could take days for definitive final results.

“Setting voters’ expectations in advance that this may happen helps offset voters’ concerns about partisan manipulation of the results if the vote tally trends away from their preferred candidate,” Voting Rights Lab and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement.

The Florida Supervisors of Elections (FSE) also called for voters to be patient in the days’ after the election, warning supervisors might not be able to post results for the presidential contest on election night.

FSE President-Elect and Marion County Elections Supervisor Wesley Wilcox and FSE Vice President and Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley urged voters to expect misinformation, disinformation and inaccurate newscasts in the hours and days after polls close Nov. 3.

Earley said he fears lawsuits will disrupt the vote-counting process, calling it his “worst nightmare.” Wilcox said the massive volume in mail-in ballots will require longer time to process, noting his office usually has no problem processing all votes, including mail-in ballots, shortly after 7 p.m. on election nights.

That’s not going to happen Nov. 3, Wilcox said, with more than 5.5 million of Florida’s 14.2 million registered voters requesting ballots via the mail, including 1.78 million who already have returned them.

Mail-in ballots “take a massive amount of handling because we’ve got to verify they’ve not voted someplace else; their signature has to match what we have on file; the envelopes have to be opened,” Wilcox said.

Noting more than 1,000 mail-in ballots were dropped off at his office right before it closed during the Aug. 18 primary, Wilcox said if Florida residents recognize it takes “a long, intensive process” to validate them, they’ll be more patient in awaiting results.

“We want to ensure that everything that we produce, everything that we publish is 100 percent accurate,” Wilcox said. “We do not have the opportunity to be wrong.”

The best way around a last-minute crush that fosters delays in tally counts is to vote in-person when early voting begins Oct. 19 in most Florida counties or to get those mail-in ballots into the mail as soon as possible, both elections supervisors suggested.

“We’ve been pushing voters: don’t wait until the last minute,” Earley said.

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