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Highlands_news-sun
Post your vote: Mail-in ballot requests up this time

SEBRING — If you want to vote by mail this year, you’re not alone.

Highlands County’s Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg has received requests for and mailed out 13,000 mail-in ballots for the primary taking place in a couple of weeks.

Usually she gets requests for 8,000-9,000 ballots, but it’s up this year, she said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with all other public events at this time, the primary on Aug. 18 and general election on Nov. 3 will observe distancing and other guidelines to protect against transmission of the virus.

Early voting for the primary is still set for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 6-15.

General election early voting will be during those same daylight hours from Oct. 22-31.

Mail-in ballots, to avoid gathering with others and prevent risk of catching a virus, have been the big change this year.

Will it affect turnout? No, according to Ogg.

“We always get a good return on the mail-in. [We get] about 50% of those back,” Ogg said.

How do people like it?

“People tell us they like the fact they can sit and research, and find it convenient to do it on their schedule,” Ogg said.

Turnout

So far the mail-in turnout has been 4,908 of the 63,628 active eligible voters, or 7.71%.

Ogg said it’s just started, but typically she sees a 40% voter turnout in primary elections, and 60-70% in general elections.

Compared to the most recent election, the 2018 midterms, this year’s presidential preference primary definitely showed an increase, Ogg said.

The presidential primary in March had 18,857 people participate, or 32.31% of 58,368 registered voters who have declared a party affiliation.

She doesn’t know if there will be a big increase in voting this year. Participation was above the local average in 2018 with 67% of voters coming out over the usual “large” turnout rate of 48-52%.

The numbers for mail-in votes and early votes have trended toward a roughly even three-way split, Ogg said, with election day votes overshadowing the other two.

Of course, she said, it depends on the election and what offices, candidates and issues are in play.

In the 2018 primary election, Ogg’s office sent out 10,200 mail-in ballots and got 5,900 back.

For the 2018 general election, her office sent out 14,600 mail-in ballots and got back 11,700.

That same year, for the primary, she also had 120 over-the-counter requests in person at her office for a mail-in ballot.

The general election that year had 310 over-the-counter requests for a mail-in ballot.

Verified

Once you have your ballot, getting it filled out and turned in is up to you, so make sure it’s filled out and sealed up right.

That includes making sure you sign your ballot envelope, Ogg said. There are two spots for people to put their signatures on the outside of the ballot, to ensure the ballot is verified.

If it doesn’t match what the elections office has on file for that voter, elections staff will try to reach the voter to verify the signature.

If they can’t verify a signature, it may not get counted.

It might be good to visit the elections office, Ogg said, especially if you registered to vote more than a decade ago and/or you have suffered an injury that affects how you write your signature.

Any significant difference in your signature requires a signature update, Ogg said. Updates must be done on a voter registration application available at registertovoteflorida.gov/home or at the local elections office.

Counted

Mail-in ballots will get counted, Ogg said.

No matter what people may have heard, Ogg said, no one will be holding ballots to count only if the day-of count is close.

Usually, ballots are counted as soon as they are received, she said.

A single first-class stamp should get the ballot back to Ogg’s office. Just make sure you send it in plenty of time for it to be there by 7 p.m. on the election day.

If it’s not already at her office on Aug. 18 for the primary or Nov. 3 for the general election, Ogg said, it may not get counted.

People can’t send the ballot the day before, she said. The sorting/distribution center for Highlands County is not in Lakeland anymore. It’s on the Gulf Coast, either in Tampa or Sarasota, so even at best, a ballot mailed locally might take two days or more to reach her.

If they prefer, voters can drop off their signed and sealed ballots at an early voting location or can take it directly to her office at 580 S. Commerce Ave. in Sebring.

As long as it does get to her before the close of polls, it will get counted.

Vote early

Early voting will be at the above mentioned dates and times at:

- Kenilworth Operations Center at 4500 Kenilworth Blvd. in Sebring.

- Avon Park City Hall Council Chambersat 123 East Pine St. in Avon Park.

- Lake Placid Town Government Center at 1069 U.S. 27 North in Lake Placid.

To vote by mail, update your address or peruse the candidates and seats up for grabs this year, visit www.votehighlands.com/votersonthego and click on the appropriate button.

Both her website and the Highlands News-Sun will publish copies of the sample ballots, and voters can fill those out to help them remember who to mark on an actual ballot.

They are cautioned, however, not to mix the samples up with actual ballots.

Ogg said no one has tried to submit a sample ballot by mistake, but such pages, unable to be scanned by voting machines, would likely jam those machines up.

She can’t have that happening on an election day, she said.


News
LP graduates in unique fashion

LAKE PLACID — The graduation ceremony of Lake Placid High School’s class of 2020 was anything but traditional. After missing several weeks of traditional schooling, having athletic events canceled, going through quarantine and not knowing if they would even have a graduation at all, the Lake Placid Green Dragons finally came together one last time as One Dragon for a graduation to remember.

As most classes enter to the “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation march, the Lake Placid Green Dragons cut the march short and entered Roger Scarborough Memorial Stadium to “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Instead of walking in a single filed line to their seats, the graduates came out of a gigantic Green Dragon football helmet celebrating, waving and dancing. The graduates scattered to find their assigned seat, that was one of seven seats assigned to the graduate with family in the additional six seats (socially distanced of course).

All of this seemed completely natural and fitting because the graduating class has had anything but a normal senior year. The Green Dragons started the year by losing a beloved teacher, Naisha Henderson, and then had their last few weeks of school ripped away due to the pandemic. The Green Dragons showed perseverance and were determined to walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

“This was fantastic and so exciting,” Lake Placid Principal Kevin Tunning said. “We had 180 graduates with a 161 here tonight. This just shows that our kids wanted this, our community wanted it and their families came. They worked so hard and we wanted to provide them with what they always get.”

A few members of the graduating class were missed.

“We had two students who left for the military, a handful that are out of the country and there are always a few that don’t want to walk but we really did have a great turnout,” explained Tunning.

Several awards and scholarships were handed out during the graduation ceremony.

The “Gwen Sanders-Hill” Scholastic Achievement Award was presented to Angel Guevara Garcia for achieved educational success by graduating with an AA degree from South Florida State College and his high school simultaneously.

The Bailey Medal was given to Esteban Barajas and Vanessa Aguilar who were most considerate of others.

The School Board Citizenship Medal recipients were chosen by the teachers in a secret ballot. The award is given to a boy and a girl from each school who meets the qualities of loyalty, honesty, cooperation, responsibility, service and leadership. The Lake Placid recipients were Izayiah Patterson and Claire Phypers.

Will Taylor, who gave the invocation, was ecstatic to finally be able to graduate.

“It really means a lot to graduate because no one thought we would be able to,” Taylor said. “A lot of my friends from other states, other schools or other cities graduated early or did the drive-thru thing and I knew that was not me. This really meant a lot to me because we got to end on the football field where my high school career started and thrived throughout high school.”

Taylor would not let the pandemic slow him down and has big plans for the future.

“This pandemic affected me a lot because I haven’t been able to go to college and had to postpone it,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of football workouts and doing a lot of stuff online. It has really been a nuisance. My plans for the future are to go to Warner University to play football and get my free education.”

For Jazsmin Ganaban, 2020 has been a rough road as she endured surgery, the pandemic and her senior year being cut short but she is on the road to recovery and was thankful to graduate with her friends.

“It has been a blur and I didn’t expect to graduate during the pandemic but it means a lot for everyone and it shows just how strong this entire group is,” said Ganaban. “Personally, I had a very major lung surgery right before we went into quarantine and I am very high risk. I had a lower lobectomy and they took out my lower left lung, so for me it was a lot. I was terrified to go out originally and wasn’t sure if I would even come to graduation because I was so scared with everything spiking. I am really glad that I came.”

Ganaban is excited to see what the future holds and dreams of opening her own business.

“In August I leave for Ohio where I will be majoring in Art and minoring in business and digital design, I double minored because I plan to open my own business where I will focus on selling my own products and work. I will attend the University of Findley.”

Tunning said he will never forget the Class of 2020.

“This class is awesome and I have a personal reason to be close to this class because my daughter is in it but it is just a unique class,” Tunning said. “This has been a tough year and began on unique circumstances with a teacher passing and then with the last nine weeks. These kids just persevered and have done a fantastic job.”

Lake Placid’s graduation ceremony ended in a bang with fireworks exploding as graduates and families celebrated.


Corona_coverage
State sees smaller increase in COVID numbers

Florida saw an increase of 8,892 COVID-19 cases with the release of Monday’s numbers by the Florida Department of Health. It was the smallest daily increase seen the past two weeks.

Testing was also down slightly, so the positivity rate of 11.39% was consistent with the two previous days. While that number is still more than double the 5% positivity rate recommended by the World Health Organization in order for countries to reopen, it is much better than the 14-15% routinely seen at the beginning of the month. Only 17 states currently meet the WHO guidelines.

Not all of the news was good, however, as the median age for new cases was 43, which is up slightly from previous days and is the highest median age of any day this month. With those ages 54 and younger making up nearly three-fourths of the cases, but just 7% of the deaths, the younger the median age is for new cases, the better.

With school districts making plans for the start of school next month, there has also been an increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations in those 17 and younger. The Florida Department of Health’s Pediatric Report, which is released weekly, showed an increase from 23,170 to 31,150 cases for the week ending July 24 — an increase of 7,980 cases, while hospitalizations went from 246 to 303.

Florida’s new cases pushed the overall total to 432,747, with the majority of those cases occurring this month. The July 1 FDOH report listed 158,997 confirmed cases.

There were 77 new state resident deaths to bring the total to 5,931 and non-resident deaths remained at 118, bringing the combined total to 6,049.

In Highlands County, there was an increase of 29 new cases, but it was also one of the best testing days seen in the county so far. The positivity rate of 4.8% is the lowest the county has seen in the past two weeks. There have now been 1,065 resident cases and three non-resident cases.

Hospitalizations decreased by five, with the count now at 125 and there are 49 currently hospitalized. Highlands County’s hospitalization rate of 12% is double the state average of 6%.

The county death toll remained at 22 and the median age of the new cases was 37, marking just the third time in the past 14 days to see a median age under 40.

In surrounding counties, DeSoto County saw an increase of 34 cases, bring its total to 1,205. The positivity rate was 23.8%, which is the second time in the past two weeks DeSoto has been above 20%.

Glades County didn’t see any new cases for the second straight day, but have only received results from 10 tests for those two days combined. FDOH did make a minor correction for the county’s results on July 24, changing the number of positives from 91 to 89, which drops the county to 383 cases.

Hardee County had an increase of eight cases, but a positivity rate of 21.1%, making it the eighth day of the past 14 where the positivity rate for new cases was 15% or higher. Hardee is now at 789 cases.

Okeechobee County saw 25 new cases and had a positivity rate of 19.8%, its highest positive rate in the last 14 days. Okeechobee County has now seen 837 cases.

Polk County saw 226 new cases and now has seen 11,717 cases. There have been 220 deaths and 951 hospitalizations.

On the state level, Miami-Dade County saw an increase of 3,201 cases with a positivity rate of 18.1%. For the past two weeks, Miami-Dade has seen a positivty rate between 16.7 and 22.8% each day.

Broward County saw 1,163 new cases, Palm Beach County had an increase of 618, Duval County added 498 cases and Orange County saw 421 new cases.

Osceola County saw an increase of 207 new cases and Marion County had 202 new cases recorded. There were eight additional counties to see an increase between 100 and 200 cases.

Nationally, the count climbed to 4,259,667, according to John Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. There have been 146,968 deaths.

On the global front, there have been 16.32 million cases and the death toll is quickly approaching 650,000, with the last count 649,965.


Highlands_news-sun
Ben Hill Griffin III, 'Florida Icon' died Saturday

FROSTPROOF – Ben Hill Griffin III, 78, died peacefully at his Frostproof home on Saturday. Across the Heartland and the state, Griffin was known as a giant in the citrus and agriculture industries. He was well known as a businessman, a philanthropist, and a champion for higher education.

Griffin was the only son out of five children of Ben Griffin Jr. and L. Frances Griffin and was born on March 3, 1942 in Lake Wales. Griffin was a Frostproof High School athlete and class president for years before graduating. After graduating, Griffin attended university of Florida but eventually graduated from Central Florida Community College with an associate’s degree. He also served in the Florida Army National Guard.

Griffin learned the agriculture business from the ground up. He did manual labor in orange groves and rounded up cattle on horseback while he was still in grade school, according to the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. He learned well from his father, a well-known citrus grower and state legislator. Griffin III joined his father as an inductee in 2010.

Eventually, Griffin earned the keys to Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. and was chairman of the board and chief executive officer. He was also the former chairman of the board and CEO of ALICO from 1990-2004, which Griffin diversified and expanded.

Griffin’s colleagues respected him and were inspired by him.

“He was a Florida icon within several segments of the state’s culture, both agriculturally and philanthropically, educational wise,” said Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands Citrus Growers Association. “I think he obviously leaves a lasting legacy for and an example of how we should all try to provide leadership in whatever arenas that we have the opportunity to do so. He will certainly be missed. He was a leader not only in the citrus world and the agricultural world, but within our state in general for all of the many blessings he shared in various arenas of state leadership.”

Royce said Griffin was involved in politics and encouraging education. Griffin donated 1,000 acres of land where Florida Gulf Coast University would be built.

As head of Alico, he had the company donate $5 million for the Alico Arena on FGCU’s property. Griffin Hall at FGCU is named after the citrus giant. Griffin established endowments and several scholarships to Florida schools. FGCU officials said the flag would be flown at half-mast until midnight Friday to honor Griffin.

Royce said the industry will have some big shoes to fill in Griffin’s absence.

“It was a life well lived,” Royce said. “He has influenced a lot of people, myself included, who will say, ‘hey, we now have to pick up that torch and continue to move forward’ and in some small way, collectively, try to fill the void he leaves behind.”

Griffin is said to have been true to his hometown roots while improving things around the state at the same time. Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission Ned Hancock was a colleague of Griffin’s who held him in high esteem.

‘It seemed to me that he (Griffin) had great foresight and his timing was also good,” Hancock said. “He knew when to diversify and when to make certain moves that enabled him to take advantage of a changing economy in Florida, both with Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. and when he headed up Alico.”

Hancock said Griffin had a knack for knowing which direction to turn to.

“He stayed true to his heart; he was a citrus grower and rancher at heart,” Hancock said, “He continued to look at other ventures and he made some tough decisions to things he probably did not want to do.”

Hancock gave the example of shutting his fresh fruit packing house and said it was a difficult but necessary decision.

“It seemed like he had the ability to lead but still follow,” Hancock said.

“He took to heart, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected. I think Mr. Griffin wanted to provide as many opportunities to as many people as he could. I think his employees would say that as well.”