TALLAHASSEE - As Floridians head to the polls to cast in-person ballots in Tuesday presidential primary election, they could likely encounter some unusual scenes as election officials take measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Supervisors of elections are stocking voting precincts with extra soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. They’re asking workers to frequently wash their hands and clean voting equipment, door knobs and counters.
And, in some counties, voters might see poll workers wearing gloves or masks.
“We have been cleaning up after every voter. Any surfaces they touch are being wiped down after every voter,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said Monday.
Nearly 2 million Florida voters had already cast ballots early or by mail as of Sunday, according to Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
While some other states, including Georgia, postponed Tuesday’s presidential preference primary, Gov. Ron DeSantis was determined that Florida’s election would take place.
“We’re definitely voting,” DeSantis told reporters Friday. “They voted during the Civil War. We are going to vote.”
Local elections supervisors are taking precautions, as the new coronavirus known as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the state.
“Voting is not a team sport, it is an individual process. If everyone is being smart, and extending that personal space, going to a polling location that is constantly being sanitized, I see no reason why an individual should not feel safe,” Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless said in an interview Monday.
But even as sanitary measures are being implemented, elections officials are already experiencing some disruption in Broward County, a hot spot in Florida for the virus.
A dozen locations that were lined up to serve as polling stations in Broward have pulled out in the last two days, according to Steve Vancore, a spokesman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office. Some of the changes were prompted by businesses owners’ concerns about big crowds coming onto their properties, he said.
“We respect that our election system works through mutual cooperation with churches (and) community centers who allow us to use their facilities. We just wish they would have given us more notice,” Vancore told The News Service of Florida in an interview Monday.
The sudden precinct changes left election officials scrambling to notify voters about new polling places, he said. As of Monday morning, 407 of Broward’s 421 polling stations had not been moved, Vancore said.
Broward elections officials also are seeing some of their workforce disappear ahead of Tuesday. About 5 percent of the county’s 4,500 poll workers have called to say they won’t show up, according to Vancore.
“Since we overstaffed on purpose, it is not a worry at this moment, but it could be,” he said.
Trying to ease concerns on Sunday night, Lee told reporters that voters and workers should not be overly concerned about encountering big crowds at their assigned polling stations.
“Precinct-based voting, where voters within the community cast a ballot, is nothing like the large gatherings our health professionals are encouraging Floridians to avoid,” she said. “Voting is quick, it is community-based, and voters and election workers can follow all health and safety precautions that have been shared with us by our health care professionals.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that events throughout the country consisting of 50 or more people be canceled.
But since primary elections tend to draw smaller turnout than general elections and Floridians have already cast nearly 2 million votes, county elections officials are not expecting long lines and crowds on Tuesday.
“There is only one race to vote on each person’s ballot ... It’s not nearly as long of a ballot, and if this was November there would be other challenges. I think it is good we have a long time to plan for the August statewide primary and the November general election,” Earley said Monday. “We are already looking at contingency plans for that.”
Lee also stressed on Sunday that there are alternatives to in-person voting for people who want to take extra precautions or who may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Voters can designate someone to pick up their vote-by-mail ballots, which can be returned to county supervisors’ offices until 7 p.m. on Election Day, she said.
DeSantis’ administration has also made recommendations to minimize the risk of vulnerable, older Floridians, who are more susceptible to COVID-19, such as suggesting that polling places in assisted living facilities be moved.
Supervisors across the state have already implemented that change.
In Leon County, officials have moved voters from two precincts located at assisted living facilities, to reduce exposure to senior residents in those locations, Deputy Supervisor of Elections Chris Moore told the News Service. Residents at the two facilities will still be allowed to vote there, according to the county’s election website.
Miami-Dade County also will assign new precinct locales for voters who were slated to vote at eight senior residential facilities, but will continue to allow residents to vote in the same place, officials said in a tweet Friday.
Juan Peñalosa, the Florida Democratic Party’s executive director, said in a prepared statement Monday the state party has identified 91 precincts that have been closed or relocated as a result of the governor’s call to protect at-risk populations.
He also said the party has tallied 126,731 voters --- who, as of Monday, had not voted yet --- who live in an affected precinct.
Peñalosa blasted the governor for not providing a master list of polling-place changes throughout the state to facilitate the dissemination of the information to voters. But state officials maintain that county supervisors have the information because such decisions are made at the local level.
“We want to be good partners and help get the word out, but we need the state Department of Elections and the governor to uphold their responsibility to our democracy and release information of polling site re-locations so that the Florida Democratic Party, our 100-plus staff and thousands of volunteers can help communicate these changes to voters,” Penalosa said Monday.