What to watch for at the polls
Florida is one of the rare states that has recently loosened a restriction on voting: Although its voter ID law remains in place, poll workers may now accept veterans’ health IDs, concealed-carry licenses, and government employee IDs. But the state has not addressed a number of other laws that are not conducive to a smooth election day; trends indicative of problematic practices; and technological deficiencies.
As of October 3, Florida’s election officials are facing a new challenge in federal court to a law that permits county canvassing boards to reject mail-in ballots on which a voter’s signature does not match their signature on file—and denies voters any recourse for curing these so-called signature “defects.” County boards threw out hundreds of ballots on this basis during the August 30 primary. Many more ballots will meet a similar fate in November if this law remains in effect, as a record number of voters have already requested mail-in ballots.
Laws governing voter challenges and voter intimidation
This year, Florida does not appear to be engaged in attempts to remove registered voters from their rolls improperly. Most recently, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner abandoned a renewed effort to purge “non-citizens” from the rolls in 2014. He did so just weeks before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit finally affirmed that Gov. Scott’s 2012 purge violated a federal law prohibiting the “systematic” removal of voters from the rolls in the 90 days before an election.
According to guidance from the Florida Division of Elections, any elector or poll watcher can challenge voters in the challenger’s county within 30 days of the election or at the polls, so long as they do so in writing, signing a statutory oath. Challenged voters are permitted to vote provisionally at a minimum but, after doing so, must provide additional evidence of eligibility by 5 p.m. on the second day after the election. Florida has made frivolous registration challenges punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor.
While Florida restricts the number of poll watchers at the polls; requires notification of poll-watcher designations in writing to the supervisor of elections in advance of the election; and bars law enforcement officers from serving as poll watchers, it does not have specific rules regulating poll-watchers’ behavior. Such regulations are an important means of curtailing avenues of interference and intimidation, such as communicating with voters and taking photos of them at the polls. However, state law prohibits acts of voter intimidation, such as “threatening or coercing any person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s right to vote” and “using or threatening to use intimidation or coercion to compel a person to vote or not vote.”