Voting early? What you need to know

When early voting begins Thursday in Lake County, residents will be standing at least 6 feet from their other voters. Floridians are returning to the ballot box for the first statewide election since March. Aubrey Jewett, a political professor at the University of Central Florida, suspects there will be a huge increase in vote by mail, and hopes there will not be a big drop-off in turnout. “We’re just in a time that the state and the world seem a little turned upside-down, so maybe politics and elections won’t be on the top burner for a lot of people,” Jewett said. “We’ll see.” For those participating in early voting this week, here are five things to know:

Early voting is at different times in different counties.

In Lake County, early voting is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday until Aug. 15. In Sumter County, early voting is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday until Aug. 15. For Marion County voters, early voting sites are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., starting Saturday and going until Aug. 15. “Let’s do it,” said Wesley Wilcox, Marion County supervisor of elections. “We’ve been working up to this.”

Make sure to bring your identification.

Residents must bring a valid photo ID with a signature. Voters don’t have to bring their voter information card. Sumter County Supervisor of Elections Bill Keen isn’t expecting lines, Sumter has added extra check-in locations, but since they are staggering voting booths and how many people can come in at once, there might be some wait time. Keen asks voters to practice social distancing and stay patient.

Voting will look a bit different due to COVID-19.

Voters can expect to see poll workers with protective equipment, Plexiglas dividers, spaced-out voting booths and disposable pens. “I think they’ll (voters) be appreciative of the personal protection measures that we have instituted, but really that’s the only changes that have been made,” said Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays. And don’t forget to wear your mask.

Florida is a closed primary state.

Voters can only vote for candidates of the same party with which they are registered in partisan races during a primary. Some local partisan races this year, like the Sumter County sheriff’s race, are universal primary contests because all candidates are of the same party and the winner would be unopposed in November. That means everyone can vote in them regardless of their party.

You can still request a mail-in ballot.

Any voters who want to request a mail-in ballot have until Saturday to do so. Voters don’t need to give a reason to request one, and can do so using methods including going online or calling their supervisor of elections office. The ballot must be delivered to the county election supervisor’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day and be returned in the correct signed return envelope.