I bet you sometimes wonder if your vote counts – or even if it’s counted.
That feeling was exacerbated by the events of 2016 – when it was widely believed that Russians and various other hackers interfered with America’s election via selective and targeted Facebook posts as well as by breaking into electronic voting systems.
There is a great deal of concern about the security of the election again this year, but Orange County has lucked out with an elections supervisor who not only counts but also inspires confidence in the system.
Bill Cowles, first elected in 1996, was the speaker Wednesday at the LWVOC’s first Hot Topics on the Zoom platform – the subject was “Election Security & Accessibility 2020.”
Cowles and interlocutor Aubrey Jewett of the University Central Florida chatted for almost an hour – with Cowles saying that all elections chiefs have been vigilant since 2016. Since 2006, Florida has used paper ballots in case recounting is necessary.
This year’s primary is Aug. 18 with the general election Nov. 3. You can check ocfelections.com,
the supervisor’s Web site, to be sure you’re registered for both elections or you can call 407-836-2070. Other services are provided on the site, including the how-tos of volunteering on either election day. Another helpful site for voters is our own lwvoc.org, which is teeming with information. Just click on “voting info” in the bar at the top of the page.
For 2020, Cowles said 18 early-voting sites will be set up; the supervisor expects an onslaught of vote-by-mail requests and says his office is getting prepared, so far spending $70,000 on masks, gloves, cleaning supplies and more for both voters and workers. Also part of his budget: funds to pay for return postage for mail-in ballots (a service not offered by all counties). As part of the CARES Act, the omnibus bill for pandemic relief, Florida is supposed to get $20 million in election-relief federal funds to be augmented with $4 million from the state. That awaits the governor’s signature on the state budget. Cowles says County Mayor Jerry Demings will provide some funding as a back-up.
The next Hot Topics July 8, also via Zoom, will feature a program on this year’s judicial candidates.
Submitted by Dean Johnson
Questions submitted by LWVOC members, answered by Bill Cowles:
1. Has there been a significant increase in requests for VBM ballots?
Since Memorial Day, we have added 17,000 VBM Requests. As of today (6.10.2020), we have 121,259 active requests. As Candidate Qualifying ends at noon June 12, we expect that Federal, State and County Candidates; County and State Political Parties; 3PVRO (like the LWV) and Advocacy groups will begin pushing VBM actively. The first ballots for the Primary Election are due to be mailed on July 1 to the overseas and military voters.
2. If my absentee ballot is rejected, will I be informed of that so I can vote some other day?
Any VBM Ballot returned without the voter’s signature or where the signature doesn’t match the voter’s signature on record, a Cure Affidavit is sent by mail and email if provided by the voter. Under the red box for voter signature, on the Certificate Envelope, is where the voter can share her cell number, home number and/or email address. This information is used to contact the voter. A voter has until 5 P.M. on the Thursday after the election to return the completed affidavit. It can be mailed, faxed, emailed or hand-delivered to our office.
3. Will voting by mail be secure if the USPS is privatized? Is there any backup plan if the post office actually is "put out of business"?
We continue to monitor this issue. Federal officials continue to share that USPS will be operational during the elections.
4. Will we be using gated communities as polling places? We had issues getting in, in the past.
We will be using five polling places that are within gated communities. All five have signed a contract with this office with specific language and direction concerning the gate(s) on Election Day.
5. What would it take for same-day voter registration, which is already a practice in many states?
The Florida Legislature would have to approve same-day registration in order for it to become law. Because of the mobility in and out of Florida and within Florida, I’m not sure they would agree to enact it.
6. Is Orange County considering any ballot-tracking technologies that tell voters where their mail-in ballot is in the process and when it’s counted?
Voters can track their ballot on our Web site from the date the request was made to when the ballot has been returned. At the League’s request, we have changed to final message to be “ballot will be counted”.
7. If an out-of-state person owns property in Florida but does not own residential property in Florida, therefore making it impossible to reside in Florida, can he vote here as long as he does not vote in the state where he lives?
Please refer to the attached document concerning “Voter Residency in Florida.” https://soe.dos.state.fl.us/pdf/DE%20Guide%200003-%20Voter%20Residency%20Updated%2006-2019%20Final.pdf