With President Trump, Florida’s most prominent Republican, decrying any attempt to expand mail-in voting for the upcoming elections, it’s probably easy to conclude that this issue has now suddenly become yet another source of sharp political division in our nation. But while some Republicans do indeed share President Trump’s position, many others – including Republican officials overseeing the election process and Republican voters themselves – apparently believe that the coronavirus requires us to think hard about how we manage the upcoming elections.
It’s a view captured in a recent opinion piece by a prominent conservative think tank on the debate in Florida over changing the rules governing voting in the upcoming elections against the grim backdrop of a pandemic that has shut the country down for weeks. In the article, Marc Hyden of R Street, a group that is as reliably conservative as they come, argues that like it or not, the pandemic requires relying on voting procedures that he believes will protect polling workers and Floridians seeking to cast their ballots.
And that, he says, includes absentee voting, something that Floridians have long done but that is surely going to set off an additional discussion within GOP circles given the president’s position. “Absentee voting is a time-tested and convenient manner of performing your civic duty,” Hyden writes. “In fact, Florida’s most powerful resident – President Trump – votes absentee, and Florida deserves plaudits for many of its commonsense absentee voting rules, which mostly makes casting a ballot a cinch for registered voters. What’s more, absentee voting has the added benefit of helping more people keep away from throngs of other voters, which can help slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
Strikingly, Hyden also wades into deliberations into a major question that Governor Ron DeSantis is mulling over and is said to be nearing a decision on. The governor is considering a list of voting-rule recommendations that Florida Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones has made to him in light of the pandemic.
All in all, the recommendations, he says, are good. But one recommendation, in particular, appears to trouble Hyden. That recommendation calls for voting locations to be consolidated and is prompted by concerns that there could be a shortage of poll workers in the future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hyden dismisses this as a valid but hypothetical concern. More than that, though, he says the proposal has the potential to limit access to voting in some areas and potentially overcrowd the remaining voting locations.
“Reducing access to voting feels antithetical to American ideals, and Jones’ proposal could come with its own health risks,” he writes. Hyden noted in his opposition to consolidating polling places that “the more polling locations there are, the fewer number of voters will visit each one – thereby reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19.” Hyden’s comments come as Governor DeSantis considers another noteworthy recommendation: widening the window to distribute absentee ballots.
In this context, U.S. Senator Rick Scott, a Republican who previously served as the state’s governor, recently noted that Florida has a record of conducting absentee voting in a safe manner while local election officials in Hillsborough, Collier, Sarasota and Orange counties issued calls for increased absentee voting. The outcome of this debate has national implications given the electoral stature of Florida, where a recent public opinion poll by the Tyson Group, a household name in state politics, found bipartisan support for increased flexibility and options when it comes to voting.
The poll, conducted in late April and early May, found that more than 80 percent of Florida voters support increased early voting – with 73 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Independents, and 90 percent of Democrats expressing support. It also found 75percent of Florida voters—including 79 percent of Republicans—support maintaining current law the requires one polling place in each precinct on election day.
In addition, 92 percent of voters said Governor DeSantis should take extraordinary measures to ensure that the August and November elections are safe and secure for voters and poll workers, and 77 percent said they supported providing post-paid return envelopes for anyone who votes an absentee ballot. Absentee ballot voting is not mail-in voting.