Florida held its primary despite coronavirus. Two Broward poll workers tested positive

• Mar 26, 2020

Two poll workers who spent Florida’s primary day at precincts in the city of Hollywood have tested positive for coronavirus, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections said Thursday.

According to a spokesman for Supervisor Pete Antonacci, the office learned over the last 24 hours that two workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The workers, who have not been identified, worked March 17 at precincts at the Martin Luther King Community Center and the David Park Community Center, both in the city of Hollywood.

Spokesman Steve Vancore said the elections office — which oversees voting in one of the Florida counties hit hardest by the global pandemic — does not know when the workers contracted the virus. But he said their contact with voters was limited.

“We just don’t know, did they contract it after or before? That’s between them and their physician,” Vancore said. “It’s just something that can’t be known, at least not to us. We just felt it was important to notify the public and, of course, their fellow poll workers who were there.”

Vancore said the infected worker at the Martin Luther King Community Center was a greeter, and would not have been required to come into near proximity or contact with any of the 204 voters who cast ballots at the precinct on Election Day. That person was and remains asymptomatic, Vancore said.

The worker at David Park Community Center, though, was checking in voters and likely would have handled some driver’s licenses for the 61 voters who showed up throughout the day. The worker is showing symptoms, said Vancore, who in the days ahead of the primary told reporters that poll workers were told to stay home if they were showing any symptoms of illness.

“We do not know if he was wearing gloves at this time,” Vancore said.

The second worker also worked at an early voting center at the Weston Branch Library over nine days of early voting from March 7 until March 15, but Vancore said the worker was not in a position to handle materials or come into contact with any of the 3,088 people who showed up at the library to vote early.

All 16 poll workers who worked alongside the two workers who tested positive on election day have been contacted by the supervisor’s office, Vancore said, as have the workers at the early voting center in Weston. In a press release, Antonacci’s office said that any of the thousands of people who voted at locations where the workers were present “may wish to take appropriate steps and seek medical advice.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Hollywood had more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other city in Florida, save Miami.

Florida was one of three states that pushed forward with their March 17 primaries despite the growing coronavirus epidemic and late-breaking restrictions by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting crowds to 10 people or fewer.

Ohio’s governor shuttered precincts despite a state judge’s refusal to issue an order postponing Election Day. But Florida, Illinois and Arizona held in-person voting, leading some voters to show up at the polls wearing masks and gloves.

The decision to hold the state’s primary was supported by the presidential candidates, all of whom said they supported states’ decisions to continue on with in-person voting. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis noted ahead of the election that the state’s weeks of early voting and no-excuse mail ballot laws greatly alleviated Election Day crowds and reduced concerns about spreading the coronavirus at voting precincts.

He said delaying Election Day would have sent a signal of “panic.”

But social justice and voting rights organizations criticized the decision. Some sued the state to extend the vote-by-mail ballot request deadline and allow curbside voting, seeking to give an incentive for Floridians to vote in the primary without showing up in person and risking COVID-19 spread. A federal judge struck down their request for a temporary restraining order.

Kira Romero-Craft, managing attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement that the organization sued “precisely because of this likely scenario.”

“No Floridian should be forced to compromise their health in order to cast their ballot,” said Romero-Craft, who urged DeSantis to create a task force to review the state’s voting laws and procedures ahead of the coming August primary and November general election. “Our leaders must rise to the challenge of acknowledging that this unprecedented health crisis has very real implications on how we administer our elections.”

Mark Ard, a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees Florida’s elections, said Lee continues to assess how the coronavirus is affecting upcoming elections. He said Lee spoke Thursday with Antonacci and offered her support in working with the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Emergency Management.

Broward County may be the first and only jurisdiction to report positive cases among poll workers.

Ard said the state is unaware of any of the other thousands of poll workers who worked on March 17 testing positive for the coronavirus. Likewise, Tammy Jones, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said she had not heard of any other positive cases.

Wendy Link, supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County, said it would be up to her workers to notify her, and she has not asked any if they’ve been tested for the coronavirus or contracted COVID-19.

“We have not gotten any notification or any word from any poll workers that they’ve been sick or tested,” she said. “I would assume if they had, they would have told us.”

Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade’s deputy supervisor of elections, said the state’s largest county — and the jurisdiction with the most coronavirus cases in the state — has not heard from any of its poll workers, either.

“None of our poll workers have advised us that they have been tested for COVID-19,” she said.


You can read the full article by David Smiley and Bianca Padro Ocasio here

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David Smiley & Bianca Padro Ocasio

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