Florida governor suggests closing schools during elections

Buildings could be used as polling places amid coronavirus pandemic

File photo. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
File photo. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) (Jenni Girtman)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved to give elections officials across the state some relief, by closing schools so they can be used as polling places, allowing state employees to staff precincts and providing more time to count absentee ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But an executive order issued by the governor on Wednesday fell short of what elections officials had requested two months ago, when they sought more flexibility in conducting the state's primary in August and the nationally important presidential election in November.

Craig Latimer, president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, said the governor's executive order was welcome but should have come sooner and delivered more.

“Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections submitted recommendations to the governor in April, which were substantially different from the accommodations offered by Governor DeSantis,” said Latimer, who serves as Hillsborough County’s election’s chief.

The officials had asked the governor to allow counties the option of starting voting sooner so they could begin counting absentee ballots earlier — a crucial request, elections officers said, because of the heightened interest in voting by mail to avoid Election Day crowds and exposure to the virus.

In addition, elections officials asked the governor to allow them to consolidate voting places because of the potential scarcity of poll workers to fully staff precincts.

Latimer said elections officials were reviewing the governor's executive order, which acknowledged some of the state's current rules could “prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the COVID-19 emergency.”

The governor's order encouraged schools to close on Aug. 18, the day of the state's primary and again on Nov. 3, to allow some campuses to be used as voting sites. He also encouraged teachers and administrators to serve as poll workers.