ELECTION FUNDING Secretary of State Laurel Lee has requested $20.2 million from the federal Election Assistance Commission to help Florida prepare for the 2020 elections. The money comes from $400 million authorized by Congress as part of the CARES Act. Election expenses are anticipated to increase as there is higher interest in voting by mail, adding to the costs of printing and postage. Some counties may need new equipment to process and count vote-by-mail ballots. Also, many polling places have declined to allow voting at their locations this year or do not have enough space to accommodate social distancing.
FELON VOTING RIGHTS Florida Division of Elections director Maria Matthews has advised county supervisors of elections to update voter registration forms, removing statements asking voters to affirm that they are not a convicted felon. As an alternative, supervisors may add language explaining that their right to vote has been restored. This is in response to a U.S. district judge’s decision overturning major parts of a 2019 law requiring felons to pay legal financial obligations, including court costs, to be eligible to vote. The governor has asked the U.S. District Court of Appeals to stay the judge’s order until a formal appeal of the ruling is heard.
M-CORES Public hearings are continuing via virtual platforms for input about the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program, which was signed into law by Governor DeSantis in May 2019. The corridors involve extending Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; expanding the Suncoast Parkway north to the Georgia border; and building a toll road between Polk and Collier counties. The First Amendment Foundation has asked for the meetings to pause, saying more inclusive, in-person meetings should be held. To see the calendar of meetings, go here. The next virtual meetings will be held on June 23rd.
SUNRAIL On May 29th, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission voted on a plan that will keep SunRail under state control until at least May 2022. The system was to be handed over to Volusia, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in May 2021. COVID-19 has delayed a series of public hearings about how the partners will manage the rail. Additionally, Volusia County has stated they now oppose the expansion of the line to DeLand. The federal government awarded SunRail $34 million for the extension, but might use the money for other capital improvements. One suggestion is to extend the line to Orlando International Airport.
TOLL ATTENDANTS Toll roads stopped being staffed on March 19th due to COVID-19. Motorists without SunPass or E-Pass transponders were billed by plate at the posted cash toll rates. The lack of attendants did not affect SunPass or cash users. Most locations have since been re-opened with attendants wearing masks and gloves. Toll traffic dropped dramatically in the month of March, before the governor’s stay-at-home order. The Turnpike lost $28 million in revenue during that period.
SPLIT OAK FOREST TOLL ROAD The Central Florida Expressway Authority has delayed the Osceola Parkway extension through Split Oak Forest. Toll road authority board members will vote on a budget in July that proposes pushing construction back to 2034. Local environmentalists have lobbied CFX to build around Split Oak Forest, as gopher tortoises, Florida scrub jays and Florida panthers have thrived, in spite of development in the area.
I-4/S.R. 408 INTERCHANGE RAMPS In early April, Governor DeSantis asked the Department of Transportation to accelerate I-4 construction while there was less traffic on the road. As a result, five new I-4/S.R. 408 flyover ramps opened about three months ahead of schedule. FDOT has created an interactive map of the ramps.