On the eve of a trial slated to begin today, lawyers representing the state and plaintiffs in a legal battle over Florida’s vote-by-mail procedures have reached a settlement.
Priorities USA, Dream Defenders and other plaintiffs have been seeking to expand the state’s vote-by-mail process, arguing that the Covid-19 pandemic will result in a record number of Floridians casting ballots from home to reduce chances of being infected with the highly contagious coronavirus.
Among other things, the plaintiffs asked to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned. They also wanted free postage for the ballots and challenged a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had set aside two weeks for a trial scheduled to start Monday.
But on Sunday, plaintiffs and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration notified the court that they had reached a settlement.
The agreement would require Secretary of State Laurel Lee to “educate” and “encourage” county supervisors of elections about a variety of vote-by-mail procedures that were at the heart of the lawsuit.
For example, the state’s top elections official would be required to educate supervisors about pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots. The settlement also would encourage local elections officials “to maximize the use of drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots” and to inform voters about the availability of the ballot drop-off sites.
Plaintiffs in the case argued that Florida needed to expand its vote-by-mail procedures because of Covid-19, which disrupted the state’s presidential primary election in March and is expected to cause even more issues in the Aug. 18 primary elections and the Nov. 3 general election.
The settlement agreement, however, cited emergency orders issued by DeSantis that give county officials extra time to canvas vote-by-mail ballots and to conduct what are known as “logic and accuracy” tests before early voting begins.
The agreement also would encourage supervisors “to use the maximum number of early voting days available to them so … they can avail themselves of additional canvassing days and maximize the availability of mandatory drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots.”
And the settlement would encourage supervisors to use their websites “and other platforms” to make vote-by-mail request forms and ballots available in Spanish.
While Sunday’s settlement appeared to put to rest most of the elements in the left-leaning groups’ legal challenges, some issues remain unresolved, according to Matthew Dietz, a lawyer who represents blind voters.
Hinkle has scheduled a 10 a.m. “settlement conference” Monday to address Dietz’s concerns.
Dietz, who represents the Florida Council of the Blind and individual plaintiffs, is trying to get supervisors to use systems that will allow blind or print-impaired voters to be able to fill out ballots from home without assistance.
Under Sunday’s settlement, Lee agreed to “educate the supervisors on the acquisition and use of any new voter accessibility technologies approved or conditionally approved by the secretary.”
But the agreement wouldn’t require supervisors to use the technology, Dietz said in an interview Sunday.
Dietz noted that the state received $20 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, for elections-related expenses.
The money can be used to pay for OmniBallot, a system that Lee’s office certified last week, that allows blind and print-impaired voters to secretly and independently fill out their ballots from home, Dietz said.
Dietz noted that the settlement came a week before the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which will be celebrated on July 26, and shortly after the Friday death of civil rights icon John Lewis, a Georgia Democratic congressman and fierce voting-rights advocate.
“On two different elements, this really is the time to ensure that everybody has the right to vote,” Dietz said.
Sunday’s settlement, which still needs Hinkle’s blessing, appears to have been a major concession by the progressive groups seeking to expand vote-by-mail procedures in Florida, a battleground state that Democrats and Republicans consider critical for a White House victory this year.
The Republican Party of Florida, which intervened in the lawsuit, declared “victory” in an email after the agreement was announced.
“Floridians choosing to vote-by-mail must have confidence that their vote will be safe and secure,” state Republican Chairman Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is also a state senator, said in a prepared statement. “We are glad that the Democrat-aligned organizations finally saw the light and dropped their lawsuit.”
The legal wrangling over mail-in ballots in Florida has come amid a national furor over absentee voting, with the man at the top of the Republican ticket in November railing about vote-by-mail for months.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly linked mail-in ballots with fraud, but this week he appeared to ease his stance on the process, which has been popular with Florida Republicans for years.
“You’ll have tremendous fraud if you do these mail-in ballots,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, appearing to single out states in which elections officials are automatically sending absentee ballots to voters. [Trump was again making a baseless claim: There is no evidence of such fraud.]
Florida’s “no excuse” absentee-ballot law allows voters to request mail-in ballots without giving a reason. Elections officials throughout the state, struggling to find enough poll workers and precinct locations during the Aug. 18 and Nov. 3 elections, have encouraged Floridians to vote by mail to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
“Now, absentee ballots are OK, because absentee ballots — you have to get applications. You have to go through a process,” the president said Tuesday.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
Jane GentileYoud says
My friend and I, without an attorney, overturned a mail in only election in Miami-Dade County Sept 1987 ( Miami Herald) by showing canvassing board 74 mail in ballots which did not meet requirements but which were counted. Total 850 ballots.
You bet mail in ballots are subject to fraud . 9% of the ballots counted should have never been opened, Canvassing board motion to invalidate election by Commissioner Barry Schreiber, also attorney at law. This was a local mail in only for Country Club of Miami residents to vote whether community wanted to pay a special tax for a security guard house at community main entrance on a public road with no power whatsoever to stop cars from entering .
Absentee voting should be allowed with a medical note or if overseas in military/family related/job related. Checking signatures is a joke! Election staff are not handwriting experts- ballots do get lost ( see Volusia county last week); illegal voting was rampant in Hialeah in 1983 and continues until today.
To make it worse, do you know that you do NOT have to prove citizenship in order to register to vote? Having been deputized several times to register voters I was allowed to ‘ask’ but not demand proof . I disagree with President Trump on many issues but absentee ballots I agree with him 1 million percent .
Early voting will give one more ‘safety distance’ ( voting booths are separated) as well as on election day. There are less people than in the supermarket.
What did our country do before early voting and absentee ballots existed?????????
Next month we celebrate the Centennial of Women’s right to vote in the USA.
It took SEVENTY YEARS of hard work and cross country drives on dirt roads from California to Washington DC; women killed, maimed for their efforts,
Shame on anyone who is able to drive to the supermarket to be too lazy to go vote in person. Old saying ” In God we trust” – no one else. Sorry I love Flagler Live but being a pioneer in overturn the first election in the then history of Miami-Dade County I know from where I speak.
Thank you Flagler Live always for giving me the opportunity to share my views with your readers. You have shown me how we can disagree without being disagreeable .
VOTE IN PERSON if you cherish your vote as much as I do mine
Bill C says
You agree with trump 1 million percent? That’s exactly the kind of overblown exaggeration you use in your arguments. A Country Club vote over a guardhouse? C’mon!
Mike Cocchiola says
Voting is an American right. Vote By Mail (VBM) is a crucial part of exercising that right, made even more critical in this era of VOVID-19. Use your American right to vote. Vote By Mail is easy, convenient, and secure. Your VBM will count.
Now, it is deplorable that our Republican Alt-President speaks out against VBM. He knows that the most serious threat to his reelection is an easy and convenient way to vote. The more voters, the less his chance in November. Sociopaths like Trump don’t fare well is democracies.
And our Republican governor? He’s shown his true Trump colors. Lead the fight against every attempt to make voting easier for Floridians. Do everything in your power to impede voting. Limit early voting. Reduce polling places. Support Republican lawsuits against vote by mail. Go full Georgia on Floridians. It’s all good if you can stay in power. It’s all about the power.
Oh, yeah, DeSantis… make them sick, make them die, but make them go back to school and their jobs to give the appearance of normality and help Trump further degrade our democracy. It’s a Republican thing, now.
Trump is already signaling he won’t accept the outcome of the elections ( if he loses of course ) claiming widespread mail in voting fraud , which has been debunked over & over again .
Add this to the list of lies and sheer incompetence he has shown the world handling the virus crisis .
It’s vital that we have a slam dunk in November with an absolute , landslide defeat .
This guy is the most corrupt and dangerous person to hold the office of POTUS .
Vote like never before !
I challenge you to show me FACTS where voting fraud has been debunked? Not from a biased news source of course. Here is a fact for you, Trump is YOUR PRESIDENT! See you at the polls.
The facts : on May 11 , 2017 trump signed a EO creating the voter fraud commission .
On Jan 3 , 2018 the commission was disbanded by Trump
Why ? No concrete evidence found , a handful yes but very insignificant numbers .
The penalty is a felony so obviously it’s not worth it .
Believe it or not
Thank you for the kind response. I would argue that while what you said is a fact, I was looking for facts related to the problem of mail-n voter fraud from a scholarly journal. Let me add that I respect your thoughts and opinions and you are the ONLY one in all my responses to articles in this online newpaper that responded in a courteous manner. For that, I commend you and wish you well.
See you at the polls
@Since you’re able to employ HTML in your “post” it seems you ARE this online newspaper.
Oh well, and so it goes…
Does anyone in their right minds really believe this lethal virus will somehow magically disappear before November? Really?
Forcing people to stand in lines (likely with those not wearing a mask), and then touching surfaces that would have a high likelihood of Corona virus germs on them to vote is outrageous! So, we should all risk our lives in order to vote because of the very low possibility of fraud with the mail in voting system used by trump and many members of Congress? “If” our government officials works together, there are plenty of ways of creating “valid” voting by mail.
Meanwhile, where is the concern about election “hacking” and other major interference from Russia, China and other countries. Bots spreading propaganda and misinformation all over social media. Fraud by government officials themselves. These situations are far more dangerous and detrimental to our elections than mail in ballots.
Meanwhile- Where is the outrage over trump’s federal “unidentified” goons beating and pepper spray veterans who are peacefully protesting in Portland Oregon. We now have US Citizens being mistreated and “arrested”. . . without due process. . . thrown in “unmarked” cars by trump’s un-identified military armed forces. Aggressive dictatorship tactics. . . Marshall law. . . . against the wishes of the mayor of Portland and Oregon’s governor! If ANY other president did such a thing. . . there would be HELL to pay! Is this what we can expect under the guise of protecting polling places?
We have been seeing the drip , drip of dismantling our norms of our democracy ( deep state my ass ) .
He has an AG doing his dirty work .
Give this guy another 4 years and it’s bye , bye democracy .
Even Mary Trump has said that .
Vote like never before !
Here is a “credible” article showing trump lying (yet again) about the results of the disbanded voter fraud commission that turned up extremely little evidence of fraudulent voting :
Sorry. . . . finding alleged voter fraud in an isolated case in 1987 (last century) has ZERO relevance to this discussion.
The trump appointed voter fraud commission found very little to be concerned about during their extensive “current” investigation.
Our elections are in much more danger by numerous “voter suppression” tactics, hacking and massive propaganda campaigns by foreign governments, and fraud by election officials.
Don’t loose sight of the major reason for vote by mail. The Republicans have created hour long lines by cutting back poling places and reducing the number of voting machines. How many people can wait hours in line to perform their civic duty> The GOP only wants white voters who have little or no education and those who have consumed the Trump Kool Aid. Trump himself votes by mail and he is the biggest fraud to ever have to have drawn a breath air.
Our founding fathers have rolled over so many times in their graves !
Guys , if Trump somehow gets re elected please send any alien spaceships you see over to my house . I want to go with them !