MAIL-IN BALLOTS DWARF EARLY VOTING
With early voting underway throughout the state for the Aug. 18 primary elections, more than 1.7 million Floridians had voted by mail or at early-voting sites as of late Monday morning. Nearly 90 percent of the ballots had been cast by mail. Early voting started in parts of the state on Aug. 3 and was required to be in place statewide on Saturday. As of late Monday morning, 177,922 people had voted early, including 93,863 Republicans and 73,187 Democrats, according to numbers posted on the state Division of Elections website. Meanwhile, 1,554,816 mail-in ballots had been cast, including 767,327 by Democrats and 554,639 by Republicans. Jefferson County Supervisor of Elections Marty Bishop said a drop in early voting likely stems from the COVID-19 pandemic and a push by most supervisors for people to vote by mail. Bishop said supervisors are taking steps to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 at polling places. “When the voter comes in and marks the ballot (in Jefferson County), they are told to carry the pen with them,” he said. “We are not using secrecy folders because of the contact of using them over and over again. We have masks and we have hand sanitizer.” The Aug. 18 primaries include races for congressional and legislative seats and numerous local posts throughout the state.
INMATE, PRISON WORKER COVID-19 CASES SOAR
Florida’s prison system recorded more than 1,500 new COVID-19 cases and two inmate deaths over the weekend, according to data released Monday by the state Department of Corrections. The number of prisoners who had tested positive for COVID-19 climbed to 12,438 on Monday, an increase of 1,463 cases since Friday. The two inmate deaths brought the total number of inmates who have died of COVID-19 to 65. Also, an additional 98 corrections workers tested positive for the deadly respiratory illness over the weekend. In total, 2,044 corrections workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of mid-Monday. Corrections officials said 860 workers had been cleared to return to work after testing positive. As the virus continues to rapidly spread in the corrections system, several prisons have seen their COVID-19 cases explode this month. Taylor Correctional Institution, which is in Perry, went from 25 inmate cases on Aug. 1 to 564 inmate cases on Monday. Meanwhile, the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler went from a single case on Aug. 1 to 116 inmate cases on Monday. As of mid-day Monday, corrections and health officials had conducted 73,078 tests on inmates, including 7,486 tests that were awaiting results.
REGULATORS SIGN OFF ON UTILITY STORM AGREEMENTS
The Public Service Commission signed off on agreements involving Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. that deal with long-term plans to try to strengthen electric systems to better withstand storms. Commission Chairman Gary Clark said the plans will reduce power-restoration costs and limit outage times. The storm plans, which include cost projections for various types of storm hardening projects, are a result of a 2019 law intended to bolster the electric grid. Undergrounding was a focus of the law and a big part of the utility proposals. FPL and Gulf Power, which are part of NextEra Energy and plan to merge in 2022, had proposed spending about $510 million a year on underground power-line projects. But under the agreement, they will continue through 2022 the installation of underground power lines as part of an existing pilot program. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the 2019 storm-protection measure after the state got hammered in recent years by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael. But the law raised concerns because it changed the way storm-protection projects are financed, which is expected to result in increased costs for consumers.