Update, July 16: The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the State of Florida and blocked the voting rights of former felons pending their payment of fines, fees, and restitution associated with their sentences. That means thousands of potential voters may be barred from voting in this year's election, according to the Washington Post.
Here in Florida, election season is closer than you might think. In the August 18 primary, Miami-Dade voters will decide, among other things, who should serve as the county's mayor and whether the incumbent state attorney of 27 years should be replaced.
With COVID-19 cases surging ever higher each day in Florida, it can be scary to think of going out to your local polling place. In order to sidestep those fears, Florida has allowed mail-in ballots for all voters for both the August primary and November general election.
To vote by mail, eligible voters must sign up to receive a ballot at home, but they do not have to provide a reason for wanting to vote by mail. The Miami-Dade elections website lets you see a sample ballot online based on your address and even allows you to track your ballot once you mail it out.
To help voters understand how to navigate the elections process in These Unprecedented Times, New Times has put together a quick guide to navigating deadlines, voter registration, mail-in ballots, as well as an overview of major issues and races on the ballot itself.
Registering to vote
The deadline for voter registration for the Tuesday, August 18, primary election is this coming Monday, July 20. To register, all legal residents need is a Florida ID or driver's license and a Social Security number. (The deadline to register for the Tuesday, November 3, general election is Monday, October 5.)
To register on time, visit the state's registration website, and click "register or update." You can also update your voter status to reflect a new address or party change. If you're unsure whether you're already registered to vote or what party you're affiliated with, you can check your voter status.
Florida is a closed primary state, meaning only those registered with a party may vote in that party's primary (for example, only registered Republicans can vote in a Republican primary election). But there are some items on the ballot that anyone can vote for regardless of party, including the races for county mayor and state attorney.
One issue that remains undecided: whether former felons will be able to vote this fall.
In 2018, a majority of Floridians voted to restore the voting rights of people previously convicted of a felony after they served their sentences. The initiative then got tied up in court after the state required felons to pay all fees related to their sentences before being able to vote, leading some to accuse Florida of creating an unconstitutional poll tax. After many legal proceedings, the case is now being held up in the U.S. Supreme Court. It's still unclear whether former felons will be able to vote in the upcoming elections.
Sign up for vote-by-mail
If you're registered to vote in Miami-Dade County and would like to vote by mail, you can sign up online. You may also request mail-in ballots for other members of your household.
If you don't live in Miami-Dade, you can visit the state's Division of Elections website and find your local supervisor of elections and follow your county's steps for registration.
When you fill out your mail-in ballot, you will have to clearly sign your name in a red box on the back of the envelope in order to identify yourself. Once you've mailed back your completed ballot, you can track its status via Miami-Dade's ballot tracking system.
If the county finds a problem with the signature on your ballot, you will be notified and given the opportunity to fix your signature by filling out a so-called cure affidavit and sending it back to the county via mail, email, or fax. The affidavit can be found in Spanish and Creole, as well as English.
August 18 primary
The primary is scheduled for Tuesday, August 18, but early voting begins about two weeks earlier on Monday, August 3, at select locations and times and runs until Sunday, August 16. The schedule and list of locations can be found on the county elections website.
The races on your ballot will vary depending on your address and party affiliation, but all voters in Miami-Dade have some decisions in common.
This year, voters of any political affiliation can vote for the Miami-Dade state attorney in the August 18 primary election because there is no Republican challenging the 27-year incumbent, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, and her progressive opponent, Melba Pearson, who are both Democrats. The state attorney is the county's top prosecutor and the ultimate decider of which criminal cases go to trial.
Rundle has increasingly come under fire recently for never charging a police officer for an on-duty killing since she took office in 1993. She has also been criticized for her handling of the Darren Rainey case, in which a mentally ill prisoner was placed by guards in a scalding hot shower until he eventually died. Rundle cleared the officers involved, citing a lack of sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Pearson previously worked as a prosecutor in Rundle's office for 15 years before taking a job as deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in 2017.
Because the only candidates are from the Democratic Party, the winner will be determined in the primary.
Miami-Dade voters of all political affiliations may also vote in the non-partisan county mayor race on August 18. The incumbent mayor, Carlos Gimenez, who has reached his two-term limit, is running as a Republican to represent Florida's 26th congressional district.
Seven candidates are vying for Gimenez's vacant post, including current county commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Esteban "Steve" Bovo, and Xavier Suarez. Filling out the slate are former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and newcomers Monique Nicole Barley, Ludmilla Domond, and Carlos Antonio de Armas.
If one candidate secures more than half of the vote, he or she will be declared the winner. If no candidate tops 50 percent of the vote, the two frontrunners will move on to a runoff in the November 3 general election.
Miami-Dade operates under a strong mayor system, meaning whoever is elected has centralized executive power and is in charge of most county departments and decisions.
The August 18 ballot also includes races for county judges, circuit judges, and school-board members.
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Voters in the City of Miami will see an extra straw poll asking if they would support the Miami-Dade County mayor initiating a program to screen all people arriving at Miami International Airport for COVID-19. The question is not legally binding, meaning it won't create any law or change — it's just a way of hearing residents' opinions on the idea.
November 3 general election
It's still too early to list all of the candidates who'll be on the November ballot, but we know the biggest names: Republican U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Trump and Biden will face off against each other and a slew of third-party contenders.
When sample ballots are available and the shape of the general election becomes clear, New Times will update this post.