Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, Democrats nationally and in Florida immediately began embracing vote-by-mail as the method to ensure they get their vote out in this important election year.

What You Need To Know

That emphasis is evident when you look at who’s been requesting vote-by-mail ballots in the Sunshine State. As of late August, more than 2,000,000 Democrats had requested vote-by-mail ballots this year, while 1,370,000 Republicans had done so.

But nationally, many Black and Latino voters – core parts of the Democratic Party’s base – resist voting-by-mail.

A recent survey released by the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center and its partner, Center for Voter Information, found that 66% of Black voters and 65% of Latino voters say they prefer to vote in person because they think their vote is more likely to be counted.

The survey polled Blacks and Latinos in six battleground states, including Florida.

The survey also showed majorities in both groups (57% of Black and 55% of Latinos) say that they do not trust election officials in their state to count their ballot if they vote by mail.

“We’re talking about communities of color who typically have less reason to trust systems in government,” St. Petersburg community leader Gwen Reese said. “But I think it’s really important that we vote by mail.”

“People don’t necessarily trust ‘the system,’’ adds Jabaar Edmond, a community organizer with Organize Florida. “Especially with what’s happening with the Postal Service.”

Vote-by-mail has been a popular method of voting in Florida for years, but the system has expanded nationally this year due to concerns about in-person voting and the potential spread of COVID-19. In late March, the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee announced they would begin texting more than one million registered Democrats in the state, asking asking them to vote by mail in this year’s elections. 

The Democrats lead in requesting vote-by-mail ballots stands in contrast to 2016, when Republicans cast 58,224 more mail-in ballots and President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 112,911 votes. 

But this year, President Trump has castigated mail-in voting for months as being riddled with fraud that could ultimately lead to a rigged result.  Trump did make a concession regarding Florida’s vote-by-mail system however, tweeting on August 4th that the state’s system was “Safe and Secure, Tried and True."

Edmond says the negative talk from President Trump regarding vote-by-mail could discourage some voters from casting their ballots in that fashion. He says that puts the onus on voting advocates like himself to ease those voters concerns.

“We have to somewhat comfort them and let them know, ‘hey, you’re right…I’m not going to invalidate your concerns, but what I will do is help you get a voting plan together and help if you need it, whether to drop off a ballot or take you to the polls – whatever it may be,” he says.

Reese, who takes COVID-19 so seriously that she says she’s only left her home on a few occasions since March, says civil and voting rights activists literally put their life on the line so that voters like herself don’t have to risk getting the virus by going to the polls.

“I think it’s really important during COVID-19, especially, that we look at the other options we have. We don’t have to die to vote like our ancestors did,” she says.

Adding a little more anxiety to the situation was when the U.S. Postal Service sent a letter to 46 states in July, warning that election deadlines may result in mail-in ballots being delivered too late to be counted.

That could lead to more people delivering their mail-ballots to drop boxes that various supervisors of elections in Florida have already employed during the presidential primary and August primary races this year.

Pastor Manuel Sykes with the Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg is concerned about where those drop boxes are located and says community leaders should have access to those decisions.

“Are we talking from an institutional standpoint, where somebody’s looking at numbers, or are they looking at clusters of places where people are populated that may not have the access to other things?” he asks about where those drop boxes are placed. 

“Too many decisions are made for us when we’re not at the table. So give us some input on where these things will work out. I can tell you better where I think you’ll have the right traffic, than not,” he says. 

If you’re interested in voting by mail, there’s plenty of time to request a vote-by-mail ballot before the deadline, which is October 24.

You can apply online on your local Supervisor of Elections website, call that office, or go there in person to make that request. 

The deadline to register to vote is on October 5. Election Day is November 3.