It’s voting season here in Florida, a period that by statute must start not later than ten days before the election and end on the third day before the election. (Here in Walton County, early voting runs from October 24 to October 31.) I voted this week, becoming one of over 51 percent of Walton County active eligible voters to vote early. As of this morning (Friday, October 30, 2020), over 7.8 million Floridians had already voted. With three days still remaining before “election day” (November 3), that is 1.22 million more early voters and voters by mail than Florida saw in the entire 2016 general election. Turnout records are being shattered.
Here in Walton County, 29,800 (of around 58,000) active eligible voters have already voted. Again, that is with three days until election day.
While it is true that every vote counts everywhere, in Florida each vote really counts. The 537 votes (of over 5.8 million cast) that separated George Bush from Al Gore in 2000, though historic, are indicative of a continuing trend: how common close statewide races are here. For reasons often written about, statewide recounts and razor thin voting margins are the norm. In Florida’s last U.S. Senate election in 2018, Bill Nelson conceded to Rick Scott only after a 12-day manual recount showed him trailing by 10,033 votes out of more than 8.1 million cast. Florida’s gubernatorial election that same year also required a recount. In the 2012 presidential election, Florida was the last state to be called and was also the closest. Barack Obama ultimately carried Florida by 0.88%.
Against that backdrop, it behooves Florida voters to understand who can vote and how to vote. Subject to the Bill of Rights and four post-Civil War U.S. Constitutional Amendments (prohibiting disenfranchisement on the basis of either race, gender, failure to pay tax, or age), who can vote and how are matters governed not at the federal level but by the states. The Florida Election Code, for instance, is comprised of over 330 statutes spread over ten chapters of Florida Statutes.
To be eligible to vote in Florida, one must be registered to vote, a U.S. citizen, a Florida resident and resident of the county in which you are voting, at least 18 years old, and not disqualified due to a felony conviction (meaning, jail sentence served and fines paid).
Eligible voters in Florida who wish to vote in person should understand and follow a few rules. The first is to have a current photo ID with a signature. More than one ID (one with photo and another with a signature, for instance) can be used to satisfy this requirement. Another requirement is that the address on the precinct register match the address on your ID. If they do not, you can complete a correcting affirmation or application at the polling place so long as you are voting in the correct precinct. That is another requirement: vote in the right precinct.
Needless to say, problems do arise. For ID reasons, incorrect precinct, new address, name change, and many others. If you encounter difficulties, do not give up and surrender your right to vote. Instead, know that you have a right to cast a provisional ballot. You should ask for one if you are not allowed to cast a regular ballot, in which case you have the right to present further written evidence (if you so choose) that supports your eligibility to vote to the Supervisor of Elections by no later than 5:00 p.m. on the second day following the election. You also have the right to find out after the election whether the provisional ballot was counted and if not, the reason why.
Finally, the Supervisor of Elections is required to post at each polling place in a county a Voter’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Here is what it says:
VOTER’S BILL OF RIGHTS
Each registered voter in this state has the right to:
1. Vote and have his or her vote accurately counted.
2. Cast a vote if he or she is in line at the official closing of the polls in that county.
3. Ask for and receive assistance in voting.
4. Receive up to two replacement ballots if he or she makes a mistake prior to the ballot being cast.
5. An explanation if his or her registration or identity is in question.
6. If his or her registration or identity is in question, cast a provisional ballot.
7. Written instructions to use when voting, and, upon request, oral instructions in voting from elections officers.
8. Vote free from coercion or intimidation by elections officers or any other person.
9. Vote on a voting system that is in working condition and that will allow votes to be accurately cast.
Each registered voter in this state should:
1. Familiarize himself or herself with the candidates and issues.
2. Maintain with the office of the supervisor of elections a current address.
3. Know the location of his or her polling place and its hours of operation.
4. Bring proper identification to the polling station.
5. Familiarize himself or herself with the operation of the voting equipment in his or her precinct.
6. Treat precinct workers with courtesy.
7. Respect the privacy of other voters.
8. Report any problems or violations of election laws to the supervisor of elections.
9. Ask questions, if needed.
10. Make sure that his or her completed ballot is correct before leaving the polling station.
Justice Hugo Black said in Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 17 (1964), “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”
Bottom line: exercise your right to vote and do your best to honor and preserve the same right in others.