Voters already have begun casting their mail-in ballots in Election 2020 — making decisions that will have enormous consequences.
The top of the ballot features a choice between reelecting President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, or electing challengers former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris.
Early voting will begin in Pasco and Hillsborough counties at several locations on Oct. 19.
Pasco County voters, for instance, will decide who should represent them in District 3 and District 5 on the Pasco County Commission. They also will choose the superintendent of Pasco County Schools.
A number of other key races are on the Nov. 3 ballot.
In Hillsborough County, voters will select the county sheriff, county tax collector, the county property appraiser, and seats on the Hillsborough County Commission and Hillsborough School Board.
Voters also will choose their congressional representatives and state lawmakers, in contested races.
Key races at the local level include Florida’s 12th congressional district; District 36, District 37 and District 38, in the Florida House; and District 20, in the Florida Senate.
Statewide, voters will decide the fate of a half-dozen constitutional amendments.
All of this comes in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley are encouraging voters to consider voting by mail, or taking advantage of Early Voting, to reduce waiting time for voters on Election Day, Nov. 3.
They also assure that steps will be taken to protect both voters and poll workers at election sites — through social distancing, face coverings and other precautions.
In addition to the pandemic, Election 2020 comes at a time of bitter partisan divide.
Political scientist Susan MacManus put it like this: “Obviously, everything that we thought we knew about politics has been turned upside down this election year.”
The national party conventions were different. The presidential and vice presidential debates have been different. The way people will vote — with experts predicting a record number of mail-in ballots — is different, too.
And, the constant frenzy of breaking news on social media and cable networks has made an impact.
“We’ve seen issues change by the hours, making it very difficult for campaigns to come up with a clear message,” added MacManus, a retired distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida.
“The nation is the most partisan/polarized in its history. The partisan divide is the deepest ever and so is the generational divide, really, politically,” added MacManus, who has been a close observer of elections for decades.
“Democrats are seen as moving more toward Socialism, and Republicans are seen as more toward, what they call maintenance of the Capitalistic system,” she said.
On top of that, she said, “you had a health care and an economic meltdown at the same time, basically reconfiguring how people live — in every facet, whether it’s no toilet paper in the grocery, to the point of, ‘Now, do I send my kid to school in person, or do I not?’
Plus, there are clashes over racial injustice and the role of police.
The political landscape is changing, too, MacManus observed.
“The demographic shift that’s taking place across the country is very evident in the registration, and the makeup of Florida’s electorate. It’s much more racially and ethnically diverse, and much more age diverse than it was, even in 2016,” MacManus added.
“Many women are running in the Legislature and Congress this year, and a lot of them are women of color.
Turnout is a big question for both Democrats and Republicans
MacManus, who is frequently called upon to share expertise with national news outlets, said each political party is struggling to reach specific groups of voters.
Democrats are seeking to attract working class whites, particularly men; the Latino vote; and Minority School Choice voters, she said, noting in the past those groups were predictably Democrat voters.
Republicans are seeking to reach college-educated white women; suburban moms with kids; and older voters, especially women. In essence, Republicans are struggling with a gender gap, she said.
“Then, each of them, of course, has a big, big, big, big turnout question,” MacManus said.
For the Democrats, the big turnout question is how many young voters will turn out.
Young voters, she said, want to be inspired, they want genuine discussions of their issues, and they value diversity.
Republicans, on the other hand, are worried that moderate Republicans will cross over and vote Biden. They’re also concerned that voters deemed as ‘Never Trumpers’ just won’t bother to vote, she said.
Despite those issues, MacManus believes that turnout will be higher for this year’s election.
She thinks it’s important for voters to understand that it may be awhile before the final results are known.
“There are legitimate reasons why you may not know on Election Night in a very close state like Florida,” she said.
A delay in counting overseas ballots is one of those reasons.
“Military and overseas ballots aren’t due until 10 days after the Election, and we have a lot of people that meet criteria,” MacManus said.
“No. 2, if you vote early and you forget to take your ID, you can still cast what’s called a provisional ballot. Then, after the election is over when the canvassing board meets, they can check it. If you are indeed registered, your vote counts. In 2000, they would have been tossed out.
“The third reason is that you can get an onslaught of mail-in ballots that get there on Election Day or a day or so before.
“If it’s really, really tight in Florida, you may go to bed thinking it’s one candidate (who won), and then a couple of days later it will be different — and, it won’t be because anybody’s fraudulent,” MacManus said.
Even after the votes are counted, it might not be over, she said.
“Each side is already lawyered up to the max,” MacManus said.
There are three ways to vote: Vote By Mail, Early Voting, and voting on Election Day.
Voters who vote by mail can either mail in their ballots, or drop them off at an early voting site. Your ballot must be received by your Supervisor of Elections office by 7 p.m., on Nov. 3.
Those voting by mail are encouraged to mail in their ballots early, to ensure they arrive on time. When voting in person, bring one or two forms of ID, which include your signature and photo. If you do not bring proper ID, you can vote a provisional ballot. A canvassing board will evaluate it for eligibility.
Important dates to remember
The deadline to register was Oct. 5.
Early voting in Hillsborough County begins Oct. 19 and ends Nov. 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily
Early voting in Pasco County begins Oct. 19 and ends Oct. 31, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Election Day voting nationwide is Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For a list of Early Voting places and other information, go to PascoVotes.gov for Pasco County and VoteHillsborough.org for Hillsborough County.
Safe and secure at the polls:
Steps are being taken in Pasco and Hillsborough counties to keep voters safe. Those include:
- Limiting the number of people inside the polling place at one time.
- Ensuring that poll workers have face coverings
- Providing hand sanitizer
- Reminding voters to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines
Election security: 10 reasons your vote is safe and secure
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer offers these 10 reasons that voters can be assured their vote is safe and secure.
- The Florida Division of Elections checks each voter registration form to verify the applicant’s identity.
- Our voter registration database is updated regularly to remove deceased and ineligible voters.
- Voters have to show photo and signature identification to vote.
- Our voter records are updated electronically to record when a voter has requested a mail ballot or voted. If someone comes to vote in person, their mail ballot is immediately canceled. And vice versa.
- The state-certified equipment is tested before each election with a public logic and accuracy test to make sure machines are counting votes correctly. During this test, pre-marked ballots are put in a randomly selected sample of our machines to make sure the count is what it’s supposed to be and that every position on the ballot is being read by each machine.
- Our ballots and equipment are under 24-hour camera surveillance and stored in areas with restricted key card access until they are deployed for voting. During voting, the ballot scanners are kept in plain sight and secured with seals to prohibit tampering.
- We use a stand-alone server, not connected to the Internet, to tabulate and report results.
- Electronic results from each ballot scanner are encrypted and backed up by printed results that are posted on the doors of each polling place and driven to our central office.
- Paper ballots are held for 22 months and can be rescanned if there is a problem with the equipment or question about results.
- After every election, we run a post-election audit using a separate system to re-tabulate the ballots and confirm the accuracy of our results.
Source: Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections’ website
Published October 14, 2020