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Attempting to increase voter turnout and COVID vaccination rates, Broward and Palm Beach County will offer both at early voting sites in the upcoming special primary election.
“I love that,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a South Broward Democrat. “Looking at the vaccine hesitancy within the African American community, I think using the early voting locations as an opportunity to get people to get vaccinated is not only smart but I would also consider that leadership on both of the supervisors’ [of elections] part.”
The plans aren’t exactly the same in the two counties. Palm Beach County is using the name “Vax and Vote.” In Broward it’s called “Vote and Vax.”
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link and Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said they hope the combination helps bring about more voting and more vaccinations.
Special elections don’t have marquee races such as president are governor that drive public interest, and they’re marked by exceedingly low turnout. Voters in South Florida’s 20th Congressional District are about to choose nominees hoping to succeed the late Congressman Alcee Hastings.
The 20th District encompasses most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and more than half the residents are Black.
“Many of the communities in District 20 have low vaccination rates. Vote & Vax is a great opportunity for Broward voters to elect their candidate and elect NOT to get COVID. The whole community wins,” Scott said via text message.
The vaccination rate among Black Floridians is lower than among whites. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the percentage of white Floridians who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose is roughly 1.7 times higher than the rate for Black residents.
The Bloomberg COVID-19 Tracker reports a much smaller difference between Black and white vaccination rates in September than February.
The League of Women Voters of Florida praised the plans to combine vaccinations and voting.
“We are thrilled that these opportunities will likely reach those in communities with lower vaccination rates. This decision made by local government officials has the opportunity to increase voter turnout and will benefit not only the health of community members but our overall democracy,” statewide communications manager Blake Summerlin said via email.
Vax and vote has apparently been tried just once before, in the county that includes Cincinnati.
Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said it was used during a May primary election in which about half the county had voting. “Many people took the opportunity to do both,” she said.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life reported that about 20% of early in-person voters participated, which works out to roughly 8,400 people who voted and received vaccinations.
After she read about vax and vote, Link said she reached out to Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County.
Though early voting runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Link said vaccinations would be offered starting at noon.
The Health Department will offer vaccinations during all nine days of early voting, from Oct. 23 through 31, at Wells Recreation Community Center in Riviera Beach and at the main Palm Beach County library on Summit Boulevard in West Palm Beach.
The Palm Beach County Health Care District will administer shots for the first three or four days at the Loxahatchee Groves campus of Palm Beach State College and the Belle Glade branch library early voting sites, then evaluate usage before deciding whether to continue.
Vote and vax will be offered at all six early voting sites in Broward. Consuelo Kelley, senior director of communications & policy at the Elections Office said arrangements are close to final for the state health department in Broward to administer the shots during all hours of early voting, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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It will be a mixture of vaccinations offered outside early voting sites or a different place at the same location; none require driving from one location to the next, Kelley said. In one voting site she said vaccinations would be offered on the other side of the parking lot from voting.
Broward’s locations are the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, the Supervisor of Elections Office in Lauderhill, the Miramar Branch Library, the South Regional Library in Pembroke Pines, the E. Pat Larkins Community Center in Pompano Beach and the Tamarac Branch Library.
The primaries to choose party nominees to fill the vacancy created by Hastings death is Nov. 2.
Information on registering to vote, mail ballots and to find out if mail ballot requests are still good or expired is available online and by phone.