State

Voting Rights Groups and State Officials Reach Settlement Over Mail-in Ballots

Lawyers representing Priorities USA, Dream Defenders and multiple left-leaning groups in their suit against the state of Florida reached a settlement in a legal battle over Florida’s vote-by-mail procedures.

The settlement was announced July 19th, just one day before a scheduled two-week trial between the left-leaning voting rights groups and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lawyers.

The plaintiffs agreed to drop the suit in exchange for Laurel Lee, Florida’s Secretary of State, to educate and encourage all of the supervisors of elections in Florida about the different vote-by-mail procedures that were part of the central focus of the case.

Lee and other top election officials will be required to inform election supervisors about pre-paid postage for vote-by-mail ballots. Additionally, they are to encourage local and county officials about using drop boxes so voters can drop off their ballots instead of mailing them.

The plaintiffs argued that requests for mail-in ballots would reach record levels as many voters are concerned about casting a physical ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guy Cecil, the Chairman of Priorities USA, explained in a press release that “The settlement establishes a set of commitments by Florida election officials to expand voting rights and opportunities across the state, but there is more work to do and we will continue to challenge the state of Florida and to fight the anti-voting rights Republican National Committee to make sure everyone can vote in November.”

The RNC touted the settlement as a victory for both elections and the party.

Ronna McDaniel, RNC Chairwoman, released a statement saying “Today’s victory is a win for Florida voters and a win for election integrity. Democrats’ assault on our elections process is not based on fact or reason, which is why they are dismissing every claim in their radical suit.”

Despite each side claiming victory, the settlement did not address the clear challenges facing the United States Postal Service infrastructure over mail-in ballots.

The settlement is meant to increase the interest and demand for mail-in ballots among Florida voters. Concerns have risen over the preparedness of the USPS to meet the demand.

The USPS will no longer provide overtime pay to employees. Reduced working hours mean that packages and important mail like ballots can be delayed by several days.

A record increase in mail-in ballots and not enough resources to meet that demand may lead to many ballots arriving past the 7 p.m. deadline on election day and not being counted. In the March primary, more than 18,000 ballots were uncounted–many of those ballots being rejected because they arrived past the deadline.

While the number of rejected ballots in the primary made up 1.3 percent of the entire mail-in ballots for the March primary, Florida’s long history with elections won by extremely close margins means that even the smallest percentages of rejected ballots can impact the outcome.

The lack of voter education on mail-in ballots is something that the plaintiffs hoped to resolve in order to reduce anxiety over the August primary and November general election. The agreement has emergency orders issued by DeSantis that give county officials extra time to conduct tests before voting begins.

The settlement also encourages supervisors of elections to use their websites and other platforms to extend the education to as many voters as possible.

With early voting and vote-by-mail already underway for the August primary, the conditions of the settlement are going to be a key indicator for electoral integrity. Despite the legal battles and partisan politics, making sure every ballot is accounted for will be a clear victory for everyone. 

Featured image: Vote-by-mail ballot. (Unmodified photo by Unsplash used under a Creative Commons License. https://bit.ly/2DylCRV)

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