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Top Florida House Democrat seeks action on integrity of mail-in voting

Statehouse Minority Leader Kionne McGhee is asking Florida's governor to work with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure mail-in voting works this fall.
A worker processes mail-in ballots for the state's primary elections at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Fla., on March 17, 202.
A worker processes mail-in ballots for the state's primary elections at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Fla., on March 17, 202.Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel via AP file

WASHINGTON — Urgent action is needed to secure the integrity of mail-in voting in Florida ahead of the November election, especially given an expected surge in it this fall, the Democratic leader of the state’s House told NBC News on Thursday.

In a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee is asking the governor to “coordinate” with the U.S. Postal Service to “get every vote counted.”

Some 30 percent of Floridians voted by mail in the 2016 general election. This year, given fears around the coronavirus, the number could top 50 percent, he said.

McGhee also sent a similar letter to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and plans in a few weeks to hold a hearing on concerns about mail ballot bottlenecks, with a particular focus on Florida, a committee aide said.

President Donald Trump, who voted by mail in this year’s Republican primary in Florida, has repeatedly spread a number of falsehoods about the practice, tweeting that it is a “scam” that’s “ripe for fraud” and would lead to the election being “rigged.” He’s also suggested that voting by mail unfairly favors Democratic candidates, even though there is no evidence to support that claim.

“There’s a possibility that Donald Trump may, in fact, push to have the postal master to restrict and/or deviate from normal practices of the postal service,” McGhee said, including restricting the number of postal workers at key processing facilities or closing them all together in Democrat-dominated counties.

“There’s absolutely nothing I would put past him at this moment,” he said.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine responded to McGhee’s comments, calling it “an absolutely bogus conspiracy theory by Democrats” and saying that “anybody reporting or sharing a story along those lines with unfounded claims is peddling in conspiracy theories.”

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said his greatest concern is that every American's vote is counted and said his “single greatest concern” is that “this president is going to try to steal this election.” McGhee’s comments offer more specificity about what Democrats fear in a critical swing state.

With the pandemic making many voters fearful of showing up in person to a polling place, voting rights advocates across the country have called to increase the availability of absentee and mail-in balloting in many states.

Florida is among the most important presidential battleground states, with 29 electoral votes and a history of deciding presidential contests by razor thin margins. Trump won Florida in 2016 by a 1.2 percent margin over Democrat Hillary Clinton, after President Barack Obama carried the state in both 2008 and 2012.

Florida already permits no-excuse absentee voting. But under state law, a mail-in ballot must be received by the supervisor of elections by 7:00 p.m. on the day of the general election, or it will not be counted. Voting rights advocates argue the law disenfranchises voters whose ballots are mailed on time but are delivered too late to meet the deadline.

Democrats contend that any bottlenecks in the system could disproportionately hit Democratic strongholds in south Florida, including Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Those populous counties have been main areas of the coronavirus outbreak in the state, meaning more voters than usual from those areas will likely want to cast ballots by mail.

“A delay in processing vote-by-mail ballots this year could be devastating, throwing Florida once again into the national spotlight on an election night,” McGhee said in the letter to Maloney and DeSantis.

McGhee has proposed adding a bar code to allow voters to track their ballots and ensure they were counted.

That would allow voters to track their ballots to make sure they’ve been received and counted by election day and, if not, voters have the option of going to a polling location. “A tracking system is definitely needed in order to ensure democracy is not paralyzed,” he said.

Florida, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases since reopening its economy last month, is likely to experience another wave of infection in the fall. Democratic officials say that would prompt many more voters than usual to want to cast ballots by mail.

More than 2.5 million people voted by mail In Florida in 2016, more than the population of 14 states. In 2018, 54,000 more Republicans voted by mail than Democrats in the state, according to the Florida secretary of state.

A Quinnipiac University poll in April showed Biden leading Trump, 46-42 percent among all voters in Florida.