View full video of the press call here.
MIAMI, Fla. — Two weeks before early in-person voting begins in many Florida counties, physicians urged voters to, if possible, make a plan to safely vote early in person. The call came as Florida saw massive increases in COVID-19 cases just days after Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed bars, restaurants and other businesses to fully reopen, while eliminating punishments for people who violate mask requirements.
“As physicians, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help Florida voters exercise their right as citizens and vote in person as safely as possible during what may be a record year for voter turnout and, more importantly, during a global pandemic,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, MD, a Miami cardiologist and Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare. “Voting early can help reduce lines and potential crowding on Election Day, as well as limit the number of people poll workers interact with that day. We cannot emphasize enough how important wearing a mask, keeping six feet apart and frequent handwashing are to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19. Individuals who choose to vote in person must not be the only ones to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining public health and preventing outbreaks. All of us — from elections officials to community organizations — must come together and step up to keep all voters and our families as safe as possible.”
The physicians said President Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnoses late Thursday underscored that all precautions must be taken to protect public health, including public safety during voting.
Early in-person voting is scheduled to begin Oct. 19 in Florida, though dates and hours may vary by county and should be verified with county clerks. During this early voting phase, voters can go to designated locations to cast their ballots before the official Election Day on Nov. 3. In 2016, more than 3.8 million people voted in-person before Election Day, while 2.7 million people voted by mail. Early in-person voting was the most popular form of voting in Florida in 2016, eclipsing the 3 million people who voted in person on Election Day itself. In addition to voting early in-person, voters can also vote by mail, also known as absentee voting.
To maximize safety when voting in-person, the physicians urged the following:
- All voters should wear masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- All voters should maintain social distancing, keeping at least 6 feet away from the nearest person.
- Voters should wash their hands frequently, and practice strong personal hygiene before, during and after they go to a polling location.
- Elections officials should set up hand sanitizing stations at polling locations.
- Elections officials should keep individuals at least 6 feet apart from each other and encourage voters to wear masks.
To reduce crowding, elections officials should also set up as many early voting locations as they can, the physicians said. Pasco County, with 380,000 registered voters, is providing 14 early voting locations, or an average of one location for every 27,142 voters. Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous county with 1.5 million registered voters, is providing 33 early voting locations, or one location for every 45,454 voters. Pinellas County, in the mid-range of registered voter population at 688,357, is providing only five early voting locations, an average of one site for 137,671 voters, by far the most disproportionate.
“We applaud the steps Florida’s elections administrators have taken to reduce risk as they prepare for a high-turnout election, and we urge them to continue working with public health and medical professionals to ensure we protect voters and allow them to perform their duty as citizens safely and with peace of mind,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, MD, an allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg. “While voting by mail without leaving home may be the safest way to cast a ballot, voting in-person early is an extremely popular option and may give voters more peace of mind that their vote is secure and will be counted regardless of potential mail delays. Of course many have no choice but to, or will still vote in person. In addition to wearing masks and washing hands, reducing crowds and creating more space for them can lower the risks of COVID-19 transmissions.”
The physicians’ appeal for safety precautions during early in-person voting comes as Florida experiences a spike in positive cases about a week after Gov. DeSantis’ controversial decision to lift all restrictions on businesses, allowing them to fully open without crowd limits. More than 704,000 people in Florida have been infected with COVID-19 since February, and more than 14,100 people have died. The state’s positive rate is 13.3 percent, more than double the 5 percent benchmark that international health experts have set for safely reopening business and schools. On Tuesday alone, more than 3,200 people in Florida were sickened with COVID-19, four times the previous day’s tally of 738.
Joining many others, the physicians reminded those voting by mail to follow instructions closely and return their ballots early, by either dropping them in secure, designated drop boxes or mailing them at least 10 days in advance. They also noted that election results may take longer to be verified due to an increase in absentee ballots, which take longer to count, and new safety precautions against COVID-19. The fact that there may be a delay means only that each vote that was cast safely early or by mail is being securely counted.
“Florida voters should not have to choose between their safety and their right to vote,” said Dr. Nancy Staats, MD, a retired physician in Jacksonville. “In many ways, this year’s election advice will be unlike any other: If voting by mail, ballots should be mailed in much earlier than usual because of concerns with the U.S. Postal Service, and if voting early in-person, we urge everyone to please wear a mask, for yourself and for others around you, bring hand sanitizer and try to keep a 6 foot distance. In spite of all the evidence indicating that masks, social distance and reduced capacity help reduce the spread of Covid, Governor Ron DeSantis continues to roll the dice with the lives of Floridians. We are extremely concerned that the continued relaxation and lack of a statewide strategy will bring another surge of Covid before and during this election. We also know that some people will want to vote in person just to be sure or to have the experience, but please reconsider: weigh the risks vs the benefit for you. Voting is the right of every citizen in this state, and Floridians understand this and will ultimately look out for one another. Voting has never been more important and as physicians we will do all we can to ensure that all Floridians are able to vote safely and securely.
FAST FACTS: VOTING IN FLORIDA
Any registered Florida voter can request a ballot online, by mail or telephone from local elections supervisors until 5 p.m. on Oct. 24. After that, voters can still pick up ballots at county supervisor of elections offices.
Floridians have until Oct. 5 to register to vote.
Florida requires voters to request mail-in ballots before elections officials can provide them. The state adopted its “no-excuse” absentee-voting system in 2002, and in 2016 switched the name from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail.”
Ballot drop-off locations can be found by contacting local elections supervisor offices.
About the Committee to Protect Medicare
The Committee to Protect Medicare is an advocacy organization made up of frontline doctors engaging in direct advocacy and communications in support of a stronger healthcare system in America. To learn more: https://committeetoprotect.org/
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 2, 2020
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