By Greg Metge, Charlotte County Voter Protection Committee
There has been much consternation surrounding voting this cycle. Nobody should be afraid to exercise their right to the franchise. This is what I know from working in close conjunction with the Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections.
First, Vote by mail is safe and secure. No one will intimidate you and there is nearly zero chance of catching COVID19. You can track your ballot online to see that it is received. If there is a problem, the SoE will contact you by phone, email, or mail and you are allowed to recover your ballot to make the vote count.
Second, numerous steps have been taken to ensure your safety during in-person voting...whether it is early voting or on Election Day. Precautions are in place to minimize exposure to COVID19. Masks are required to enter the polling place. If someone refuses to mask up, they can still vote but they are directed outside to a special voting booth (it is really outside). Everyone’s temperature is taken upon entering the polling place. If a fever is detected, the voter will be allowed to vote–but outside in the special booth. All poll workers are behind plexiglass and required to wear masks. All polling booths are sanitized and wiped down between voters. Pens are sanitized. Some testing of workers is done but not as a routine.
Third, voter intimidation has become an issue. The President has indicated to his supporters to go out and poll watch. He has even sent a dog whistle to the armed militia to patrol the process. It is sad to have to answer such claims but such is our time. People can not, under any circumstance, simply walk into a polling place to watch the activity. Poll watching is a regulated and legal process. Poll watchers must be credentialed by the SoE far ahead of the election by parties or candidates. Our Democratic poll-watching volunteers are credentialed and in place. Walking into the polling place without authorization for any reason besides voting is illegal. Any such person is breaking the law and will be removed by the clerk of the poll or law enforcement.
Armed militia at the polls is voter intimidation and illegal. Florida is not an open carry state so brandishing a firearm is an offense. Concealed weapons are not allowed inside polling places. Any verbal harassment inside the 150-foot limit at the polling place is subject to arrest. Verbal harassment beyond the 150-foot limit, if it impedes voting or turns voters away, is also illegal. If these actions occur, the clerk is authorized to call law enforcement and is backed by the SoE. As an aside, militias are illegal in Florida and not covered by the Second Amendment according to multiple Supreme Court cases. Unless called by the Clerk or the SoE, law enforcement can not linger at the polls. They are allowed to enter in uniform and armed to vote but must leave after casting their ballot.
It is sad that the Voter Protection Committee must address these issues and not concentrate on ballot counting. However, this is the new world we have. Vote with confidence and vote with pride. Voting is the core of our Democracy. Be not afraid.
Image Credits: Greg Metge