The 2020 Presidential election is a dramatic play whose spotlight illuminates a global pandemic, a reinvigorated racial justice movement, and intense partisan tension. The lead actors – President Trump and former Vice President Biden – will battle until the bitter end where one must emerge as the hero. The controversial yet coveted ticket to the show: a ballot.
As COVID-19 cases skyrocket and the November 2020 election looms, vote-by-mail ballots have become a topic of contention. They stand in contrast to in-person voting, which is raising concerns among voters and politicians who fear the potential for polling places to spread the virus.
In Florida, the March presidential primary demonstrated the difficulties associated with voting during a pandemic.
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones wrote to Governor DeSantis that the election was hindered by polling places becoming unavailable, difficulty acquiring hand sanitizer, and “poll workers deciding not to work.”
Fortunately, Florida offers mail-in ballots, meaning the problems from March can largely be avoided in November. Increased usage of mail-in ballots would be a good substitute for in-person voting. However, current laws that govern these ballots, like many aspects of our typical lives, do not suit the constraints of COVID-19.
Following the March election, a case was brought against DeSantis demanding paid postage for mail-in ballots, an extended Election Day Receipt Deadline, and challenging the Voter Assistance Ban.
In a response that took ten weeks to materialize, DeSantis issued an emergency order that loosened some rules relevant to mail-in voting.
Some of the revisions include authorization for ballots to start being counted earlier in anticipation of receiving an overwhelming amount of mail-in ballots. Additionally, Florida’s director of emergency management is to ensure the deliverance of protective equipment to election offices.
While some county officials are grateful for any help they can get during this strenuous time, many note that it is too little, too late. Most counties already have election plans in place and would struggle to uproot them to accommodate a largely ineffective plan.
In addition, some of the greatest concerns of plaintiffs in the suit against DeSantis were overlooked.
Lifting the Voter Assistance Ban would have been instrumental in allowing individuals to collect and turn in ballots for voters with health risks, such as the elderly. The current law does not allow individuals to accept any benefit in return for submitting more than two mail-in ballots, aside from their own.
Why is there so much resistance in reforming the vote-by-mail system? For answers, one may look to the top. Lately, for reasons unknown to most, Trump has been peddling the idea that vote-by-mail benefits Democrats, and that it invites voter fraud. Could this be related in any way to his belief that vote-by-mail poses the “biggest risk” to his reelection?
A study on vote-by-mail statistics showed that vote-by-mail does not specifically benefit Democrats or Republicans, nor does it bring a significant number of nonvoters into the electorate. It increases the likelihood that an individual will vote and allows voters to track when their ballots are counted.
Perhaps dedicating so much attention to enhancing the vote-by-mail system translates in Trump’s mind to his admittance of defeat by COVID-19. Planning so far ahead to avoid in-person voting implies that the virus will not be under control by November and that conditions are unsafe, which would contradict Trump’s perception that he handled the pandemic spectacularly.
Regardless of their motivation, Trump’s accusations are inviting scrutiny of vote-by-mail by the GOP.
Republican leaders in Michigan, Arizona and New Mexico are fighting statutes that would expand mail-in voting. Given the general sentiment within the party, DeSantis likely feels pressured to take a similar stance. He is supporting the claims of Trump, his fellow Republican and superior.
The problem with the GOP following Trump’s lead on this issue is that his claims about mail-in voting are blatantly incorrect. In a common sense conflict turned political, vote-by-mail is yet another demonstration of the potential for politics to polarize virtually any issue.
One can only hope that facts and numbers triumph over fiction. Then again, some of history’s greatest plays were also based on fairytales and myths. Perhaps the 2020 election will someday rest among the likes of Much Ado About Nothing and The Crucible.
If you would like to register for vote-by-mail in Florida, look no further! Simply click here to get the Supervisor of Elections’ contact information for your county; the process takes about 3 minutes.
Featured image: The iconic “I Voted” sticker. (Unmodified photo by Dwight Burdette used under a Creative Commons License. https://bit.ly/2Dx4gVh).