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Lawsuit challenges Florida’s mail-in ballot rules as more people expected to vote by mail because of coronavirus

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made access to mail-in voting even more important but current state laws infringe on voters’ rights, the lawsuit claims.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mail-in ballot rules in the nation’s biggest swing state are being challenged in a new lawsuit as more voters than ever are expected to cast their vote by mail in upcoming elections because of the coronavirus.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and Alianza for Progress.

In anticipation of an unparalleled demand for mail-in ballots and an expected shortage of poll workers due to the ongoing pandemic, the complaint focuses on three points:

  1. Ballots should be valid as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, as opposed to current law which says vote-by-mail ballots can only be counted if they are submitted to local election offices by 7 p.m. on election night.
  2. The state should pay the postage for returned mail-in ballots because requiring voters to pay amounts to a poll tax.
  3. Restrictions should be lifted barring people who are paid by organizations, like Priorities USA, from helping voters submit mail-in ballots because it’s an infringement on voters’ First Amendment rights.

The complaint names Gov. Ron DeSantis, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody and local elections officials as defendants.

A similar suit was filed by Priorities USA last month in battleground state Pennsylvania.

Supervisors seek adjustments

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, who will become the next president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections on May 11, has been a vocal advocate for mail-in voting.

RELATED: Supervisors of elections warn Gov. DeSantis of potential issues ahead of August, November

“It was heartbreaking on March 17 (Florida’s primary election) to get calls from people who intended to go out and vote, but now they were in that over-65 category and it was not going to be safe for them to go out,” Latimer told 10News in April.

“We need flexibility.”

In a letter sent to DeSantis last month Latimer, and Florida’s other supervisors of election, asked for more power to add or change early voting sites and extend early voting to 22 days ahead of an election. The state, however, is not prepared yet for a total vote-by-mail election, they said.

The group is expecting to hear back from the state “soon” on its request, according to a news release announcing Latimer’s new position.

Mail-in voting support surge

A USA TODAY and Suffolk University poll published Monday finds two-thirds of Americans support voting by mail as an alternative to voting in person on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic. Findings, however, differ dramatically by party.

Several states have postponed primary elections due to the COVID-19 crisis. Florida went ahead with its March 17 presidential primary election.

RELATED: Wisconsin votes despite stay-at-home order, returning large number of absentee ballots

President Donald Trump has claimed, without proof, that expanding mail-in voting will lead to widespread voter fraud.

Currently five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – conduct elections totally by mail. In 34 states, registered voters can vote absentee without needing an excuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For more information on upcoming election dates, click here. Deadlines to request vote-by-mail ballots for the August primary election is July 4. The November election deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is Sept. 19. Your local county’s Supervisor of Elections will have more details.

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