Monday is the deadline for Florida residents to register to vote in the general election, but Panhandle officials are asking people to avoid waiting until the last minute to make sure they can cast a ballot in November.
That was one of the many messages emphasized by the supervisors of election in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties at a joint news conference Thursday in Pensacola.
The officials also addressed early voting, mail-in ballots and the impact of COVID-19 on the election. But the first priority was to make sure voters know they have to be registered by Monday.
“All three of our offices are going to offer extended hours. We’re going to be open until 7 p.m. on Oct. 5,” said Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford. “That’s to allow extra time for people to get their registration in to vote.”
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To register, those with a Florida driver’s license or identification card can use the online voter registration portal on all three of the supervisor of elections’ websites or go to registertovoteflorida.gov.
Paper applications to register to vote must be postmarked by Oct. 5, but officials stressed Thursday that residents should fill out the necessary paperwork as soon as possible.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Stafford said. “Once we get beyond that deadline, if you come in to (register) on Oct. 6, you will not be able to vote in this general election.”
For those opting to vote by mail this election — an increasingly popular option amid the coronavirus pandemic — the three officials again stressed the importance of planning ahead. The U.S. Postal Service recommends mail-in ballots be mailed no later than one week before Election Day on Nov. 3.
“So if you get beyond that, you really want to look at hand delivering that ballot either to an early voting site or to our office to make sure it gets in on time,” Stafford said.
Escambia County has already mailed more than 60,000 vote-by-mail ballots, according to Stafford. That means that roughly 38% of registered voters in the county have been issued mail-in ballots already.
“And we continue to get them in by the hundreds each day, so that number is going to rise,” Stafford said.
Escambia County supervisor of elections David Stafford talks about the upcoming General Election, including ballots, registration deadline, COVID precautions, early voting and vote-by-mail during a press conference in Pensacola on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/[email protected])
Early voting runs Oct. 19 to 31
Early voting in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties runs from Oct. 19 to 31. All designated early-voting polling sites will accept voters between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on those days.
“On Election Day, you have to go to the precinct where you live, but early voting you can go to any site that is available,” said Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane. “In Santa Rosa, we’ve added two additional sites. The number of sites vary by county to county, so you can visit any one of our websites to get that information as far as where you can go to vote early.”
Early voting has seen a huge spike in Florida since 2016 and Villane said she expects that trend to continue in the next month.
There will be drop boxes for mail-in votes at every early voting site in each of the three counties.
Here are the early-voting sites in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties:
- Supervisor of Elections Office, 213 Palafox Place, second floor
- Main Library, 239 Spring St.
- Molino Community Center, 6450-A Highway 95A in Molino
- Genealogy Branch Library, 5740 B, Ninth Ave.
- Southwest Branch Library, 12248 on Gulf Beach Highway.
- Escambia County Extension, 3740 Stefani Road in Cantonment.
- Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. DeSoto St.
- University of West Florida Conference Center, University Parkway, Building 22.
Stafford said Thursday that in addition to the eight voting sites listed above, two others will be announced in the coming weeks for a total of 10 sites in Escambia County.
One site will be “about a mile away” from the previously planned Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds site. That location will be changed to avoid conflicting with the Pensacola Interstate Fair, which runs on many of the same days as the early-voting schedule.
The other early voting site, Stafford said, will be in Century. Both specific locations will be submitted to the state for approval by Sunday and announced to the public shortly thereafter, Stafford said.
Santa Rosa sites
- Main Elections Office (Behind McDonalds on U.S. 90 in Milton), 6495 Caroline St., Suite F.
- South Service Center (one block east of the zoo on U.S. 98), 5841 Gulf Breeze Parkway in Gulf Breeze.
- Tiger Point Community Center, 1370 Tiger Park Lane in Gulf Breeze.
- Pace Community Center, 5976 Chumuckla Highway in Pace.
- Santa Rosa County Auditorium, 4530 Spikes Way in Milton.
- Navarre Community Gym, 8840 High School Blvd. in Navarre.
- County Administration Building, 1250 Eglin Parkway in Shalimar.
- Crestview Community Center, 1446 Commerce Drive in Crestview.
- Crestview Office, 302 Wilson St. N in Crestview.
- Destin Community Center, 101 Stahlman Ave. in Destin.
- Niceville Community Center, 204-C Partin Drive N in Niceville.
How does COVID-19 affect in-person voting?
To guard against the spread of COVID-19, officials said masks, gloves and face shields will be supplied to poll workers in the three counties.
Villane said plexiglass will be installed at check-in tables in all three counties and there will be an abundance of hand sanitizer provided for both poll workers and voters at all polling sites.
“We’ll make sure things are wiped down — voting booths, pens, equipment, making sure things like that are cleaned throughout the day,” said Villane, who also said social distancing will be promoted on Election Day. “If the room is getting too crowd, we’ve asked poll workers to make sure we hold people at the door until that crowd subsides.”
Despite taking similar COVID-19 precautions, the three local election supervisors said they have had different experiences when it came to securing enough poll workers on Election Day, a looming concern for many during the pandemic.
“I will say that we were hoping to open another early voting site, but I don’t have enough people to staff the five that I have, so I will not be able to open another site,” said Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux. “Although I was able to capitalize the equipment, I simply won’t have the workers to work it.”
Lux said 50 to 60 new poll workers were trained in Okaloosa County earlier this week.
“We are still actively looking for more people to sign up in my county,” he added.
Stafford said there was no notable shortage of poll workers in Escambia County, while Villane said Santa Rosa County has actually been “inundated” with people who want to be poll workers.
To lighten the load during early voting season, Santa Rosa County is splitting up the 12-hour shifts for poll workers so the same people aren’t working straight through the day.
All three supervisors did say they noticed more young volunteers than in past years.
None of the polling sites in the three counties were damaged by Hurricane Sally to the point where they will be out of commission for early voting and Election Day.
Be prepared when you vote
When it comes to things running smoothly on Election Day, the officials stressed being prepared before you enter the polling site.
“What makes this go faster for you the voter and for the voters waiting in line behind you is if you come prepared,” Lux said. “So what we have on each of our websites is precinct-specific ballots to download so you actually have a picture of what your ballot is going to look like.”
Lux suggested marking those downloaded example ballots and bringing them with you when you actually vote to use a cheat sheet.
For more information on voting, early voting and mail-in ballots in the county you reside in, visit EscambiaVotes.gov, votesantarosa.com and govote-okaloosa.com.
Jake Newby can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8538.
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