Polk County cities hold elections in midst of global coronavirus pandemic

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Amid a global pandemic, voters in Polk County cast their ballots for city commissioners and charter amendments Tuesday.

“We feel like it’s our duty to vote on voting day regardless of the situation with the virus,” said Ralph Fredericksen, who voted at Bartow Civic Center.

Elections were held in Bartow, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Hamilton, Lake Wales and Mulberry.

Click here for election results from Polk County

“The supervisors of elections actually don’t have any authority to change election dates,” said Lori Edwards, the Polk County Supervisor of Elections.

Edwards said it was unclear who could have postponed the elections. For many cities, their location elections are set forth in their charter, she said.

“I’m not sure whether it’s an issue that the governor would make the decision of the cities but supervisors of elections are just administrators,” said Edwards.

When asked whether she would hold elections if it were up to her, Edwards told 8 On Your Side she wasn’t sure there was an alternative.

“How long can you postpone?” she asked. “The fact of the matter is we want to have leaders in place that we have elected and the leaders that are in place right now, in these municipalities, their terms will end.”

Voters wore face masks and stood at a distance from each other in line.

Only a few voters were allowed in at one time. Surfaces and pens were disinfected after every use, according to Edwards.

“Well, it’s just an old tradition that when it comes that time, you go ahead and vote,” said Herbert Dixon, a well-known Polk County golfer.

Dixon is 100 years old.

“I have voted in every election every year since I’ve been eligible,” voter Saralyn White said. “I have my little mask that I take. Just try to be careful, wash my hands and use the sanitizer.”

The electoral process wasn’t just different for the voters, but also the candidates.

“There have been no group meetings. There have been no presentations. There have been no speeches,” said Steve Githens, who ran for Bartow City Commissioner Seat 4.

So Githens transitioned to meeting with voters one-on-one, which had its own challenges.

“There were some who were very hesitant to open their doors. There are some who are hesitant to take a piece of paper that I touched,” he explained.

Edwards predicted an average turnout, which she says is 15 percent for local municipal elections. She was able to easily secure the 60 poll workers and locations needed for this election.

However, Edwards has concerns about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect upcoming statewide and presidential elections in August and November.

“We intend to spend the time between now and the fall elections promoting vote by mail to all voters. It seems like the best opportunity to see to it that everybody gets their voice heard,” she said.

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