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New head of Florida’s elections supervisors group is all in on mail-in voting

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a big push is underway in Hillsborough County to get voters to request their vote-by-mail ballots ahead up upcoming elections.

TAMPA, Fla. — Craig Latimer is betting many voters won’t feel comfortable physically going to the polls in Florida’s upcoming August primary or November general election because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The supervisor of elections in Hillsborough County and president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections says mailers started going out May 11 to give registered voters in Hillsborough three options for requesting mail-in ballots.

Voters can 1.) request a vote-by-mail ballot online, 2.) call the Supervisor of Elections office or 3.) mail back an enclosed form.

“We’re going to deliver the election to you,” Latimer said. “You’ll able to vote in the comfort of your home, you can use your computer to check on candidates and issues.”

Hillsborough voters can mail their completed ballots back, no postage required, according to Latimer. 

A federal lawsuit filed last week challenges several aspects of Florida’s mail-in ballot rules, including the need for return postage in most counties.

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

Given the increased demand for mail-in ballots for Florida’s presidential preference primary in March, just before the shutdowns began, Latimer expects even more voters to opt to vote by mail this fall.

“Normally about one-third of our voters vote by mail,” he said. “We had over 50 percent of our voters vote by mail in the presidential preference primary.”

While all states allow at least some voters to cast ballots by mail, some require an excuse for why you can’t vote in person. While others, like Florida, offer no-excuse absentee voting, meaning you can request a mail-in ballot without having to provide a reason.

Just five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington—conduct all-mail elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In a letter sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis last month asking more flexibility as the pandemic continues, the Florida Supervisors of Elections noted the state is not ready for a total vote-by-mail election this year.

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

Latimer says the turnaround is simply too tight—just 10 weeks between the August primary and November general.

“If you look at the others states that do it, their mail-in ballots go out like 60 days before the election—that would cause us to have to move back our primary,” he said.

But a future statewide push doesn’t appear to be out of the question.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of my colleagues,” he said. “I think people are going to hear about it quite a bit.”

For now, whether in Hillsborough County or not, he’s encouraging all registered voters to get their mail-in ballot requests now.

“Get it done,” he said. “There’s no reason to wait.”

Latimer says the county teamed up with several popular local businesses—BurgerFi, La Segunda bakery, Acropolis and The Blind Tiger coffee shops—where customers will get vote-by-mail fliers included with their orders.

A USA TODAY and Suffolk University poll published last week found 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.

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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