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Number of Vote By Mail Ballots In Miami-Dade Is 'Historic,' Says Election Supervisor

Miami Herald
Christina White is the Miami Dade County Elections Supervisor. She is pictured here during the recount following the 2018 midterm elections.

As the state sinks deeper into the coronavirus pandemic, primary elections for Florida’s local and congressional races are just around the corner.

That reality is forcing elections officials at every level to plan on how to keep the Aug. 18 elections protected amid the general sense of uncertainty around the virus.

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In Miami-Dade County, Supervisor of Elections Christina White has been preparing for the elections for months. Federal money received from the coronavirus relief law, the CARES Act, was spent by her office to send vote-by mail voting applications to every registered voter in the county.

The result is an upcoming election that will for the first time largely take place by mail, at least within the county.

WLRN’s Daniel Rivero spoke with Christina White about the August and November elections, and the challenges of voting during a global pandemic.

The interview below has been very lightly edited for clarity. 

The deadline for requesting a vote by mail ballot is Aug. 8. Click here to see WLRN’s FAQ for voting by mail in South Florida, including links for how to request vote-by-mail ballots.

WLRN: Miami-Dade has closely watched elections coming up in August for the congressional primaries, but also for local races like the county commission, county mayor and the state attorney's office. How has the coronavirus pandemic changed what it means to run an election right now?

WHITE: I think as elections officials, we are very used to rolling with the punches. Sometimes the circumstances leading up to an election does make you have to pivot a little bit. Nothing quite like a global pandemic, but I feel very fortunate. We are doing well.

All of our preparations are well underway. I think how it's changing this election cycle is how many people are voting by mail.

We were already going into the 2020 presidential election cycle under the impression that there was going to be a spike anyway organically just because of how easy it is. But certainly with people wanting to be home and feeling more comfortable at home, we have seen an even larger spike than what we were expecting. 

We mailed out over 332,000 vote by mail ballots already. That is historic at this point in time for a primary.

I would not be surprised if 60 percent of our voters vote by mail.

Considering the fact that more people are expected to vote by mail, will that impact the number of in-person polling places across the county?

In my county, we have had a modest reduction in polling locations, completely within the realm of normalcy for any election. It's about twenty seven.

Twenty seven is the reduction number, the number of sites that have been moved at this point? 

Yes, that's correct. And that's very common.

They’re private facilities and there may be construction underway or something going on that they just are not able to give us permission to use it. Our strategy there was simply to move those voters to the next closest polling site. Those voters will be notified in the next week or so.

We also put it in a newspaper of general circulation and put notifications at the original locations so people know where to go in case they missed those other notifications. 

But again, it's modest. We have almost 600 sites throughout Miami-Dade. And the voters will be notified appropriately.

For the presidential primary election, there were some issues with poll workers pulling out at the last minute because of the coronavirus. How have you tackled those staffing issues since then, moving forward into this primary and the general election?

I would say it's our biggest vulnerability, without a doubt.

We can do all the planning and preparation ahead of time and have all the personal protective equipment available. But if we don't have our poll workers who are actually wanting to come out and serve — rightfully so, people are scared — that is where we'll run to a little bit of trouble.

Today, I feel pretty good about our numbers. We've surveyed our poll workers and we know that we're able to fully staff all of our sites, which is great. But again, if we continue to have spikes leading into Election Day, we could have more people deciding that they don't want to do it anymore. 

My strategy in that situation is — I always have contingency plans for everything that we do. I tap into my early voting workers who have been working the entire early voting period. My internal staff members, I may have to deploy them.

And I'm also very fortunate that I have the support of Miami-Dade County government. I have multiple departments that supply their employees to me. So if there are any drops at the last minute, I'll be able to backfill them with county employees.

There's been some recent reports about changes in the U.S. Postal Service that are expected to delay the delivery of snail mail. Is that an issue that's on your radar?

Certainly I've heard that in the public view. From our conversations with our post office liaisons, we should not be concerned about that. Whatever conversations are happening on the national level are not going to affect the delivery or the receipt of vote by mail ballots.

I don't want to perpetuate that fear for our voters. But I would say don't delay. There's really no reason at this point to delay on anything. If you want to vote by mail, get the request in early and get it back to us as soon as possible.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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