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Early voting under way in Lee County

By Staff | Aug 13, 2020

By CJ HADDAD

cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com

Early voting for the Aug. 18 Primary Election is under way.

Voting at select locations throughout Lee County began Saturday, Aug. 8, and will run through Saturday, Aug. 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

In the August Primary Election, registered voters only can vote for their registered party’s candidate in a partisan contest on the ballot. All voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in nonpartisan contests or on an issue for which they are eligible to vote.

With COVID-19 still present in the community, Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle, “encourages all voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. They do not have to vote it. Consider it a back-up plan, an insurance policy, just in case something happens and they are not able to make it to vote in-person. Voting by mail is a safe and secure way to vote. Stay home, stay safe, and vote-by-mail.”

Early voting locations include:

• East County Regional Library, 881 Gunnery Road N, Lehigh Acres

• Veterans Park Recreation Center, 55 Homestead Road S, Lehigh Acres

• Cape Coral – Lee County Library, 921 SW 39th Terrace, Cape Coral

• Northwest Regional Library, 519 Chiquita Blvd. N, Cape Coral

• Lee County Elections Office – Cape Coral Branch Office, 1039 SE 10th Ave., Cape Coral

• North Fort Myers Recreation Center, 2000 N Recreation Parkway, North Fort Myers

• Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Center, 2990 Edison Ave., Fort Myers

• Estero Recreation Center, 9200 Corkscrew Palms Blvd., Estero

• Lee County Elections – Bonita Springs Branch Office, 25987 S Tamiami Trail #105, Bonita Springs

• Lee County Elections Center, 13180 S Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers

Lee Elections spokesperson Vicki Collins said the office has been working hard to best ensure the safety of the public and workers while at polling locations.

“All the necessary supplies; voting machines, voting booths, EVids, ballots, PPE supplies, etc., are ready for delivery to Early Voting sites on Friday,” Collins said. “Early Voting Poll Worker training classes (ended) August 7. We follow CDC guidelines in all phases of the elections process.”

One of the challenges the office faces at this time is recruiting poll workers during a public health crisis.

“COVID-19 has created many challenges, chief among them is poll worker recruitment, here in Lee County and throughout the state,” Collins said. “People are very concerned about working the polls. At this time we have enough poll workers to staff all 10 Early Voting sites. Election Day is the challenge because many poll workers drop out at the last minute, so we need to have enough people trained to be able to step in if/when needed.”

Collins said they will follow social distancing guidelines and CDC recommended guidelines at all sites and polls on Election Day. Workers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and will be supplied masks and gloves, which will also be offered to the public. Poll workers will be required to wear masks with the option to also wearing a face shield.

The number of voters allowed inside polling locations at one time will be limited. Voting booths will be sanitized between voters and at all stations. Hand sanitizer will be readily available for poll workers and the public.

“For the safety of our staff, poll workers, and fellow voters, we strongly encourage voters to wear a face mask and will provide them with one if needed,” Collins said.

Voters who requested mail ballots should have them in hand.

If residents are worried about mailing their ballot back to the Elections Office, but do not want to vote in a crowd, they can take their completed mail ballot and drop it off at the office or other polling locations.

“I’ve been encouraging people to vote-by-mail since I was elected into office,” Doyle said in a previous interview with The Breeze. “It’s convenient. It’s safe. You never know what life is going to bring — look at this pandemic. And in 2017 we had Hurricane Irma that affected voting, too. You never know.”

In Lee County, where the process has become the method of choice for voters across party lines, those casting a ballot can continue to feel comfortable with their mailed-in votes, Doyle said.

Lee County registered voters have the ability to track their mail-in ballots and the office has practices in place to watch for potential fraud.

His office has not seen any attempts of blatant fraud; such as casting a vote for a passed away relative, family member, or someone who just wasn’t who they said they were.

“We haven’t seen any cases of that at all,” Doyle said. “There’s no evidence that it helps either party. Democrat or Republican, vote-by-mail doesn’t help any party. There is no evidence of massive fraud in vote-by-mail. Is there fraud? There’s fraud in everything, but there’s not massive fraud, there’s not fraud that would change an election. In order to create fraud to change an election in Florida, I’d have to be collaborating with all 67 counties. That’s how extensive it would have to be.”

Doyle said the first thing the Elections Office does when they receive a vote-by-mail ballot is to check the signature for verification.

In Lee County, registered voters need to request a vote-by-mail ballot to receive one. Those ballots are tracked, and each voter has a signature on file in which the office compares the mailed-in ballot to.

If the office finds the signature does not adequately compare to what they have on file for the voter, that individual is contacted immediately by the Elections Office to inquire about the ballot.

If a voter did, in fact, cast that ballot, but for some reason the signatures did not add up, the office is able to remedy the situation and verify the vote via what’s called a Cure Affidavit and a copy of a “tier 1” identification. The signature is then updated in their file.

Doyle said some voters do have multiple signatures on file, as they do not always sign their name the same way.

Voters have two days after the election to “cure” the mismatched signatures. If they do not, that ballot is marked as “rejected” and is not cast.

Doyle said this circumstance does not happen often, as their rejection rate is “probably 1 percent or less.”

Vote-by-mail has been an option for residents in Lee County for nearly two decades. Ballots are not allowed to be forwarded to a second address; they are returned to the office if there is a forwarding address on a residence. Doyle said that 51 percent of registered voters in the county cast their vote via mail.

At the Lee Elections office, both their vault and tabulation room are under 24-hour video surveillance and require two-factor authentication for access.

Races in the 2020 Primary Election include:

n U.S. House of Representatives D-19

The District 19 U.S. House of Representatives race appears on both the Aug. 18 Primary and Nov. 3 General Election ballots.

The Republican primary, for registered Republicans only, or “closed,” offers nine candidates: Darren Aquino, Casey Askar, Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle, William “Fig” Figlesthaler, Randy Henderson, Daniel Kowal, Christy McLaughlin and Dan Severson, all competing in the primary to replace Frances Rooney, who is not running for another term.

The Democratic primary, open to registered Democrats only, offers two candidates: Cindy Lyn Banyai and David Holden.

The top vote-getter in each closed, partisan primary will then advance to the General Election. Patrick Post has qualified as a write-in.

• Florida Senate District 27

The Florida Senate District 27 race will appear on the Aug. 18 Primary Election ballot — for voters who have registered their party affiliation as Republican — and on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot.

The primary in August has two Republican candidates: Heather Fitzenhagen and Ray Rodrigues. The top Republican vote-getter will advance to the General Election and face Democrat Rachel Brown.

• State House District 79

The District 79 State Representative race appears on both the Aug. 18 Primary and Nov. 3 General Election ballots.

The closed Republican primary has two candidates, Spencer Roach, incumbent, and Randy Allen-Scott. The top vote-getter will then advance to the General Election where he will face against Democrat Danika Fornear.

• Lee County Commissioners

There will be closed Republican primaries Aug. 18, on in each of the three of the seats up for election on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. Two of the three seats will also feature a Democratic challenger in the November election while all three also have write-in candidates that have qualified.

County Commission District 1: Michael J. Dreikhorn and Kevin Ruane, both Republicans. Kelsey Hotchkiss has qualified as a write-in candidate in November.

County Commission District 3: Nicholas “Nick” Batos and Ray Sandelli, the incumbent, face off in a closed Republican primary. The winner will face Todd James Truax, a Democrat in November. Molly Hannigan has qualified as a write-in for the Nov. 3 General Election.

County Commission District 5: Steven Patrick Haas and Frank Mann, the incumbent, will face off in a closed Republican primary. The winner will face Juan Gonzalez, a Democrat, in November. Kayley McHugh has qualified as a write-in for the General Election.

• Lee County School Board

Three nonpartisan Lee County School Board seats are on the Aug. 18 Primary ballot but voters countywide may only cast a ballot in one of the nonpartisan races. The seats for Districts 2 and 3 will be determined by voters who live in those districts only while all voters, regardless of party affiliation or the district in which they live, can cast ballots in the District 7 race, which is at-large. If a candidate receives a majority of the votes cast or (50% + 1 vote) in their contest, the candidate receiving the majority vote wins the election. In this scenario, the contest is decided in the Primary Election. If there are more than two candidates in a contest, and no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast in the contest, the names of the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be placed on the ballot at the General Election.

District 2: Emory Cavin, Charla Fox, Melisa W. Giovannelli (incumbent) and John F. “Jeff” McCullers.

District 3: Brian DiGrazio, Chris Patricca (incumbent) and Jacqueline Perez.

District 7, at large: Pete Bohatch, Cathleen Morgan (incumbent) and Curt Sheard.

• Lee County Sheriff

The Lee County Sheriff’s race appears on both the Aug. 18 Primary and Nov. 3 General Election ballots. The Republican primary has two candidates, incumbent Carmine Marceno and James Leavens, a major and watch commander with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office until his retirement. The top vote-getter will then advance to the General Election where there will be three additional candidates on the ballot: Coach Ray, NPA; Carmen McKinney, NPA, and Robert Neeld, Democrat.

• Lee County Property Appraiser

The Lee County Property Appraiser race appears on both the Aug. 18 Primary and Nov. 3 General Election ballots The Republican primary has two candidates — Matt Caldwell and Matt Miller. The top vote-getter will then advance to the General Election where a write-in candidate, Elaina Cosentino, has qualified.

The General Election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, with early voting from Monday, Oct. 19 through Saturday, Oct. 31, also from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj