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Highlands_news-sun
How to vote: What you can, cannot do when you vote

SEBRING — Poll workers may expect to see a lot of first-time and once-in-a-long time voters turn out for this year’s Election Day. If you are one of those people, or you normally vote by mail and chose to vote in person for the first time in a while, you may not know all of the rights you have at the polling place, and some of the things you can’t do. Even those of us who think we have the process memorized might forget a few things.

Here, straight from the Florida Department of State and your local Supervisor of Elections Office is a list of some of the accommodations you can get and some of the privileges you don’t get.

The ‘zone’

The first thing you’ll notice is a 150-foot no-solicitation zone marked around the polling precinct, to prevent anyone from promoting a candidate or vote on an issue to the waiting voters.

Inside that radius, people are not allowed to:

- Ask someone for their vote

- Offer to assist someone to vote

- Ask for someone’s opinion

- Ask for a contribution

- Conduct a poll, with the exception of an exit poll

- Ask someone to sign a petition

- Sell any type of item

- Distribute political or campaign material or handouts

- Display political advertisements or campaign materials.

The only exception is voters who, without loitering, enter and exit the polling place only to vote.

Voters may wear campaign buttons, shirts, hats or other paraphernalia, but may not then stand within the 150-foot radius and promote their candidate.

Workers

Poll workers, more strictly, must remain nonpartisan in their appearance and behavior while on duty inside the no-solicitation radius of any early voting or Election Day polling place..

Poll workers, by state law:

- May not wear campaign buttons, shirts, hats or any other politically-oriented items.

- May not discuss any candidate, political party, issue or related topic with other poll workers, poll watchers or voters.

- May not have any written campaign or related material visible to others.

The line

All eligible voters standing in line at the polling place before the early voting closing hour or before 7 p.m. on Election Day shall be allowed to vote. Poll workers would have to clearly mark the end of the line, such as having a deputy stand in line behind the last person in line.

In the rare case that a court or other order extends polling hours, the deputy would then stand behind the last person in line at the new closing hour.

That doesn’t mean latecomers cannot vote at all. They may each cast a provisional ballot, which must be kept separate from all other provisional ballots cast during the regular voting hours.

Those casting provisional ballots each have the right to present written evidence supporting their eligibility to vote to the supervisor of elections by no later than 5 p.m. on the second day following the election.

Walking in

A poll worker stationed at or just outside the doorway may ask you, as you enter the precinct, if you have your photo identification with you. This is just a reminder in case you left it in the car.

You don’t have to show identification until you get to the table where other poll workers will check to see if you are properly registered and whether or not you have already voted. Obviously, if you are there, you haven’t or should not have voted, yet.

Florida Statutes 101.5611 states that the local Elections Office will post a notice at each polling place that reads: “A person who commits or attempts to commit any fraud in connection with voting, votes a fraudulent ballot, or votes more than once in an election can be convicted of a felony of the third degree and fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 5 years.”

Of course, you won’t try to do that, but it never hurts to warn people.

Voting

If someone received a mail-in ballot but wants to vote in person, they can return the ballot to the poll worker — who will then verify that the ballot has not been submitted, entered and counted — and cancel the ballot officially.

If the voter does not return the vote-by-mail ballot, or has left it at home, the poll worker must confirm with the Elections Office that the Supervisor of Elections has not already received that ballot. Once cleared, the voter can vote in person.

Highlands County Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg has said that every voter registered in her database gets marked as having voted or not once a ballot is entered at a polling place or received via mail.

Once the initial ballot is entered, she said, any subsequent submitted ballot, by accident or on purpose, would be disqualified and not counted.

No loitering

Florida Statutes 102.101 states that no law enforcement officer is allowed to stand in the polling place — except to vote — and the same holds true for journalists and that year’s political candidates. They can walk in to vote, and then they must walk out.

Law enforcement may be called upon to remove any person who becomes disruptive to other voters.

Notes

Voters who may have trouble remembering their stance on certain issues may want to bring in notes or a sample ballot to guide them, but may not use these to campaign inside the polling place or within 150 feet of the entrance to the polling place.

After each voter leaves, a poll worker must check the voting booth for uncast ballots and campaign materials. Any they find, they must discard.

Privacy

No one is allowed to take photographs in a polling place, and security cameras must also be covered.

However, individual voters may take a photograph of their own ballot as long as they do not get any other person in the frame.

If the polling room is located in a commonly-used public area where they need to gain access to a business or home — like the lobby of a condominium — or an area usually open to the general public — like an atrium at a shopping mall or public plaza, there may be people walking through who have not or are not voting or working the polls.

The care needed to ensure others don’t interfere with the voting process, however, has prompted most supervisors of elections to seek out other locations with fewer access points that the public doesn’t need to use.


Highlands_news-sun
Traffic cops: What's the cost, need for designated patrol?

SEBRING — Are you safe on the road? Watching other people drive, you might not feel like it.

Everyone has either seen, experienced or committed acts of speeding, tailgating, weaving, crossing in front of traffic or just not watching what they are doing.

Not everyone gets a ticket, but according to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, they have plenty of traffic stops for one reason or another. What reasons, exactly, and how many of those reasons fell under the heading of “driving behavior” is unknown. Sheriff’s Office officials said tickets and traffic stops are not filed according to infraction or the probable cause.

However, the Sheriff’s Office did report that a quick scan of the computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) records shows 7,015 traffic stops this year with 2,582 of those on U.S. 27.

“Those numbers may not be exact, but they won’t be off by more than a few,” Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Scott Dressel said. “Those are just our numbers.”

Officials at local police departments were not available to provide their statistics as of press time Monday.

Highlands County has had at least 21 traffic fatalities this year, with the most recent reported Oct. 27 at Keiber Boulevard and U.S. 27.

That number, from the Highlands News-Sun’s unofficial records, is almost as many as the 23 reported on last year.

Official records this year from the Florida Crash Dashboard run by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at flhsmw.gov, list 20 fatalities so far in 2020.

Out of 896 crashes year-to-date in Highlands and a total of 445 crashes with injuries, 32 crashes were motorcycles, with three deaths; 14 involved bicycles, with one death, and 26 involved pedestrians, with three deaths.

Out of 147 hit-and-run wrecks, 41 people were injured and two were killed.

2019 saw 28 fatal crashes in Highlands County, according to state records.

Out of 1,231 total crashes in the county and 572 crashes with injuries, 39 were motorcycle crashes, with five deaths; nine involved bicycles, with zero deaths, and 36 involved pedestrians, with five deaths.

Hit-and-run crashes accounted for 206 of the 2019 total, leaving 56 people injured, but none killed.

In 2018, the numbers were lower. Out of 18 fatal crashes, the county saw 20 people killed and 26 injured.

Out of 1,186 total crashes and 558 crashes with injuries, 35 were motorcycle crashes, with two fatalities; 15 involved bicycles, with one death, and 24 involved pedestrians, with zero deaths.

Hit-and-run crashes accounted for 191 of the 2018 total, leaving 35 people injured and two killed.

That year, 2018, Dressel told the Highlands News-Sun that sheriff’s deputies were doing the best they could with what they have.

The number of citations written for that year were 2,802, more than the 1,900 written in 2017 or the 1,619 written in 2016, most of which were before Blackman took office.

2019 saw 1,703 citations written in the first two quarters.

Blackman pointed out that from Oct. 4, 2018, to March 31, 2019 — deputies made 7,090 traffic contacts because of infractions, wrote 2,326 citations, gave 3,085 written warnings and 1,649 verbal warnings and made 30 DUI arrests.

Blackman was proud of 7,000 traffic stops in a span of a little more than six months by 75 uniformed deputies who patrol 1,100 square miles and answer 90,000 calls every year.

Dressel advised in 2018 that people can help themselves and law enforcement by slowing down and paying attention, because distraction is harder to detect and police.

Since then, Florida has passed a law making the use of a mobile device while driving into a primary offense, a reason to get pulled over and ticketed.

A question raised in 2018 was whether or not Sheriff Paul Blackman could afford to reestablish a traffic unit and whether or not he should.

His answer was that he can’t and that his road deputies are covering that duty aptly. That isn’t to say that he wouldn’t like to have such a unit.

“I would love to have a traffic unit,” Blackman said to commissioners during a July 2019 workshop for the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget.

The re-startup cost was prohibitive, however, he said: An estimated $900,000 in personnel, equipment and training for four deputies and a sergeant, all the vehicles and the shift scheduling to provide 24-hour coverage, seven days a week.

When asked that estimate again in October this year, Dressel relayed an estimate of $1.3 million for a six-deputy team.

J.P. Fane, retired deputy who served eight years in the Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit under former Sheriff Howard Godwin, also said increased costs and reduced funding helped kill the unit.

Fane has said that the cost includes not just training in the work but in how to properly handle motorcycle-based patrol, a key element to the stealth and maneuverability of the deputies.

Dressel has said a motorcycle, while cheaper to insure than a patrol car, costs as much to buy, and each traffic unit deputy gets both a car and motorcycle.

Most deputies can’t just jump on a motorcycle, Dressel said, and need several weeks of a special, expensive school to get certified to ride.

Fane called the course “the most physically demanding course I’ve ever taken.”

Deputies had to learn to ride in formation and in tandem and then how to — safely — drop a 950-pound bike on the ground while riding on pavement, grass or sand.

Motorcycle riders say, Fane said, that “It’s not ‘if’ you wreck, but ‘when,’ and not only can they wreck themselves, they are vulnerable to other cars.

That’s because most cars don’t see motorcycles, Fane said, which was a plus when sneaking up behind a speeder.

Fane has said he thinks Blackman is doing a great job as it is, and Dressel said the sheriff’s office struggles with post-recession property tax losses like every other agency.

One of Fane’s traffic team colleagues, retired Deputy Sheriff Sgt. Alvin Walters, often said that people can do two things to avoid wrecks beyond any outside traffic enforcement: “Leave earlier and drive slower.”


Highlands_news-sun
County COVID-19 cases increases by 26

SEBRING — Monday’s report from Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard revealed Highlands County added 26 new cases of infection to its total. The new cases increased the county’s overall total to 2,732 cases.

Fortunately, the death toll did not increase and remains at 118. Females have more cases of infections with 1,475 infected over males who have had 1,228 cases of infection. There have been 13 cases where the gender is unknown.

On Sunday, 151 tests were processed and there were 131 negative tests. Monday’s positivity rate is 13.82%; nearly double the reported rate on Sunday and the highest rate since Sept. 22.

Monday’s median age was 55 and the overall average is 48 years old in the county. The median age can vary from one day to the next. It would appear there is a direct correlation between the median age and death rate. The following counties show an increase in the death rate percentage as the median age increases:

County, Median Age, Death Rate

Charlotte County, 55, 4%

Citrus County, 52, 4%

Flagler County, 48, 2%

Hernando County, 49, 5%

Highlands County, 48, 3%

Sumter County, 55, 3%

Union County, 47, 4%

Countywide, there have been 284 people hospitalized from COVID. Currently, there are 34 people hospitalized per the Agency for Health Care Administration. The adult ICU bed census is 23 and there are six beds available. The county’s hospital bed census is 206 with 50 beds available.

Okeechobee, Lafayette and Jefferson counties were surely happy with the zero increases reported on Monday. Unfortunately, the following counties had triple digit increases in their new cases: Broward – 314, Duval – 161, Orange – 158, Palm Beach – 214 and Pinellas – 102.

The Highlands County Board of County Commission will be providing COVID-19 updates only on weekdays. They will no longer be posting the updates to social media. Alert Highlands will give the coronavirus now. Text hccovid to 888777 or sign up at highlandsfl.gov, follow the prompts at the bottom of the page for Alert Highlands.

Statewide, the new cases jumped by 4,651 infections, which brings the overall total to 812,063, including non residents.

The death toll has surpassed 17,000 with a total of 17,043. The FDOH report shows 42,100 tests performed on Sunday leading to a 6.43% positivity rate.

Nationwide, 9,229,335 cases of infection have been reported and deaths have reached 231,011.

Globally, the cases have climbed to 46,723,235 and 1,202,081.