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ALACHUA ‒ The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic effect on the methods Americans are using to vote. Due to concerns about social distancing and the spread of the virus, records numbers are choosing to either vote by mail or early voting to avoid long lines on Nov. 3. The election is expected to produce record turnout in the number of Americans that are participating in the election process and has already set records for both mail-in and early voting with more than 29 million voting early by Monday, Oct. 19, according to the US Election Project. In contrast, only 6 million had voted by this time in 2016.

A number of states, including Florida, are breaking previous records. Texas and Georgia have already set records, and in Ohio, a crucial swing state, more than 2.3 million postal ballots have been requested, double the figure in 2016. Despite claims of voter fraud by mail in-ballots there is little evidence that it exists. According to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, the rate of voting fraud overall in the U.S. is between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. Reports indicate that registered Democrats have so far outvoted registered Republicans—casting more than double the number of ballots.

Florida counties have mailed out more than 5.6 million ballots for the Nov. 3 general election and nearly 1.8 million have already been returned, according to the Division of Elections website. That’s more than 12 percent of registered voters in the state. Two factors help explain the massive spike. Several states changed laws from four years ago to either offer or expand early voting, and more people are taking advantage of it, particularly voting by mail, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Oct. 19, early voting in person opened in Florida with long lines forming at all six polling places in Alachua County. Each voter maintained a 6-foot social distancing in line and most wore masks as an extra precaution to not catch or spread the virus. It is expected that the pace will continue up to Oct. 31 when early voting closes.

Early voting is required in any election that contains a state or federal office race. The early voting period must start at least on the 10th day before the election and end on the 3rd day before the election. In addition, supervisors of elections have the option to offer more early voting on the 15th, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, or 2nd day before an election. Early voting hours must be at least eight hours, but no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period.

There are six locations for early voting in Alachua County. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office at 515 N. Main St., Suite 100, Gainesville; Tower Road Branch Library at 3020 S.W. 75th St., Gainesville; Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 N.W. 43rd St., Gainesville; Orange Heights Baptist Church at 16700 N.E. SR 26, Hawthorne; J. Wayne Reitz Union on the University of Florida Campus at 655 Reitz Union Drive, and Legacy Park Multipurpose Center at 15400 Peggy Road in the city of Alachua. Early voting sites will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A number of people who planned to vote by mail are delivering their ballots in person at drop boxes to ensure their timely delivery. The drop boxes are located outside the polling sites, so people delivering their filled in mail ballots do not have to stand in line. Polling locations have drop boxes Oct. 19 through Saturday, Oct. 31. However due to concerns about COVID-19, record numbers are still using the mail-in option. For people interested in voting by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is Saturday, Oct. 24.

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