Terriayna Spillman, 19, has been waiting to vote for a presidential candidate since she was in elementary school. The day after Tuesday primaries, the African-American college student is still waiting. In Florida and Ohio, poll closures and other disruptions prompted by coronavirus threatened certain voting groups more than others, according to interviews and data analysis by USA Today. Among those most at risk: young voters, senior citizens, minorities and people in low income communities. In Florida, precincts inside assisted living facilities were closed by the dozens, affecting both older residents and nearby voters who cast ballots there. As the state’s colleges emptied, students registered in the county where they live nine months of the year while attending school were sent home to other counties or states without voting. “I watched my mom, my grandparents, when Obama was running and went to his rallies,” said Spillman from her family’s Lake County, Florida home. “I could not wait until it was my turn.”
Registered in Volusia County, where she attends Bethune-Cookman University, Spillman wasn’t able to vote in Lake, 90 minutes away. She’s joined others in a lawsuit to extend Florida’s vote-by-mail deadline and ease restrictions on absentee voting.
It’s not just Florida, though, and it’s not just students.
USA Today’s analysis focused on a few large counties for which poll closure data was available in states with primaries Tuesday. The impact on poor and minority neighborhoods was not uniform. But in the case of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, the pattern was pronounced.
About 41% of all Cuyahoga County polling places were in zip codes with predominantly nonwhite populations. But 69% of the planned polling place closures were in these minority neighborhoods.
Similarly, 35% of all polling places were in areas with median household incomes below $35,000. But 58% of the planned closures were in these low-income neighborhoods.
Some closed precinct sites were at nursing homes. Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, said that while voters understand the health concerns with nursing home voting sites, “we also have concerns that many of those closures might hurt turnout in predominantly black neighborhoods.”
The NAACP chapter had planned to have workers “on the street” in neighborhoods where same-day voting sites had been moved to help with voters who might have been confused about where to cast ballots.
“Not everyone gets to read a news article, or catches a post about closings on social media,” she said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose continued to press to reschedule the vote for June 2, a plan expected to require approval by an Ohio court.
Florida voters, young and old
“Florida supervisors of elections are very, very aware of equity in polling locations because Florida has been under the microscope for years,” said Susan A. MacManus, a University of South Florida professor emerita of political science.
While the state’s 67 supervisors of elections may be careful of racial and income inequity, many precincts have been located in assisted living facilities. Some are upscale. But some are located in lower-income neighborhoods. Closing precincts in those assisted living facilities also impacts lower income voters who live nearby.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last Friday made it clear he wanted no one coming to an assisted living facility to vote.
“I don’t want people going into these assisted living facilities if you are not part of that community, it’s just not worth the risk,” Desantis said at a press conference.
“That may mean some voters get inconvenienced,” he said, “but to me, it’s a no brainer.”
Whether or not older voters in assisted living voted sometimes depended on decisions made by individual elections supervisors.
In Miami-Dade County, a voting machine was left in each assisted living facility, said a spokesman for the supervisor of elections. Up the road in Palm Beach County, Supervisor of Elections Wendy Satory Link offered to provide vote-by-mail ballots to residents and take filled out ballots back to be counted.
However, management at only eight of more than a dozen facilities took her up on the offer.
At Bethune-Cookman, Spellman was told Thursday she had to pack up and leave the campus, along with thousands of college students across the state. Young people are not immune. Florida’s Department of Health reports Florida cases have included two 19 year olds in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and a 17 year old in Hillsborough.
“Things were moving very quickly and we feared the state of Florida had made no accommodations for what was happening,” said Judith A. Brown Dianis, attorney and co-director of the Washington, D.C.-based legal group Advancement Project. “It was business as usual, when it was anything but.”
By midnight Monday, a last-minute appeal was underway to lift restrictions on certain voting deadlines and methods, especially voting by mail, so people might still cast ballots. Joining the federal lawsuit filed in North Florida: three Florida advocacy groups; an older Miami-Dade couple; a University of Florida student; a woman self-quarantined after international travel; and Spellman.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle did not immediately grant the relief sought. But, acknowledging that steps to contain the virus have made it “difficult to impossible” for some to vote, he did not dismiss the suit, leaving open the possibility that Floridians unable to vote may get a second chance.
Full Article: These 2020 primary voters face extra hurdles in pandemic.