EXCLUSIVE: Florida Elections Supervisor Issues COVID-19 Voting Procedures That Appear to Challenge Florida Law

DeSantis's office has expressed 'serious concerns'
By Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Reporter
Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas: patricia.tolson@epochtimes.us
August 3, 2022 Updated: August 10, 2022

A supervisor of elections for a Florida county has repeatedly overstepped his authority to implement COVID-19 mandates and voting procedures that appear to challenge numerous state laws, according to documents obtained exclusively by The Epoch Times just days before the start of Florida’s 2022 primary election cycle.

Early voting in Florida runs from Aug. 13 to Aug. 20, and “Each county ‘s Supervisor of Elections may offer more days of early voting from one or more of the following days: Aug. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 21.” Florida’s primary Election Day is Aug. 23.

In a letter dated Nov. 4, 2021, Paul Stamoulis, the supervisor of elections for Florida’s Charlotte County, informed “all applicants interested in serving as a Poll Worker” that they were “required to complete an enclosed Certification form,” verifying that they had “been inoculated for the COVID-19 virus.”

Applicants were told they had to identify the type of vaccine they received and the dates the vaccine was administered. By signing the form, applicants were also acknowledging that they understood they would be required to wear a mask or a face shield, covering their nose and mouth, “at all times.” Applicants who could not “comply with this new policy” for “whatever reason,” were told they were “ineligible to work the 2022 Elections.”

Paul Stamoulis, Supervisor of Elections for Charlotte County, Florida.
Paul Stamoulis, supervisor of elections for Charlotte County, Florida. (Charlotte County Supervisor of elections website)

Paul Stamoulis, supervisor of elections for Charlotte County, Florida. (Charlotte County Supervisor of elections website)

On April 2, 2021, seven months before Stamoulis mailed his letters, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed executive order 21-81 (pdf), banning vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, saying such measures “would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.”

A month later, on May 3, DeSantis issued executive order 21-101 (pdf), which suspended all local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses, and further stated that “no county or municipality may renew or enact an emergency order or ordinance, using a local state of emergency … that imposes restrictions or mandates upon businesses or individuals due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

The order was effective immediately. The same day, DeSantis signed executive order 21-102 (pdf) suspending all remaining states of emergency as of July 1, four months before Stamoulis mailed his letters.

Due to immediate backlash, Stamoulis rescinded this vaccine mandate policy.

Pandemic Procedures

But after his failure to force a vaccine mandate on local poll workers, Stamoulis has released a new set of polling room procedures that would prohibit voters from entering any one of their three early voting locations.

According to Page 8 of Stamoulis’s “Polling Location Pandemic Procedures 2022” manual, Stamoulis wanted poll deputies to take the temperature of every voter—including accompanying children or any assistors they might bring—who wants to cast a ballot during Charlotte County’s 15-day early voting period.

Screenshot from "Polling Location Pandemic Procedures 2022" issued by the Supervisor of Elections for Charlotte County, Florida, Paul Stamoulis.
Deputies’ duties from “Polling Location Pandemic Procedures 2022” issued by the Supervisor of Elections for Charlotte County, Fla., Paul Stamoulis as seen in July 2022. (Screenshot)

Under the heading, “Changes During COVID,” the new manual says “each location would be provided with a thermometer,” and “Deputies stationed at the entry to the polling location” will be responsible for that thermometer throughout the day.” Deputies will also “instruct that Everyone wishing to enter a polling location is to have his or her temp checked (kids, assistors, poll watchers, etc.).”

If anyone registers a temperature of 100 degrees or more, “claims to be uncomfortable entering the location,” or “claims to feel ill and does not want to enter the polling location” or “refuses to have their temp taken,” that would trigger a costly and time-consuming procedure.

‘Alternate Voting’ Procedures

Any of those situations would activate “alternate voting” procedures.

The deputy must stop attending to their other outside duties—which include ensuring that only voters and qualified individuals are admitted into the polling room, maintaining the peace outside, and ensuring enforcement of the 150-feet “no solicitation zone”—in order to find the clerk, who also would need to step away from their assigned duties.

Those tasks include assisting voters casting a provisional ballot, providing assistance to the EViD operator/inspector who operates the electronic poll book when they are unable to locate a voter in the registry, ensuring the maintenance of adequate supplies, filling in for poll workers who are on breaks, and managing the overall voting process within the polling site.

Screenshot of mandatory Deputy and Clerk Responsibilities procedures to be followed if a voter registers a temperature of 100 degrees or more being imposed by the Supervisor of Elections for Charlotte County, Florida for the 2022 Primary Election Cycle.
Screenshot of mandatory procedures to be followed for deputy and clerk responsibilities if a voter registers a temperature of 100 degrees or more that are being imposed by the Supervisor of Elections for Charlotte County, Fla., for the 2022 primary election cycle. (Screenshot)

Under the “Deputy and Clerk Responsibilities” heading, the clerk is directed to go outside and, while “wearing a mask and single-use gloves,” explain the new alternate process and “request the voter’s photo/signature identification and inform the voter they will be right back.”

The clerk must then go back inside and interrupt the check-in procedure of a voter—who already went through the temperature screening process—in order to have the EViD operator/inspector force the machine to issue a voting pass, since the voter hasn’t yet provided a signature for verification purposes.

One Voter, Three Poll Workers

The clerk then returns outside with the voter’s ID, voting pass, signature slip, ballot, and secrecy sleeve. After the voter signs the signature slip, the clerk then compares the signature with the signature on the voter’s ID. If they match, the voter is directed to a voting booth outside in the Florida summer heat to mark their ballot.

The deputy then juggles their normal duties with monitoring the voter to make sure they don’t leave with the ballot and/or that they aren’t approached by a third person. Once the voter has completed their ballot, they are told they must take their ballot to the deputy, who is not permitted to touch the ballot, so the deputy can go inside to get the clerk, who must again stop what they were doing inside in order to go back outside to get the voter’s ballot.

Screenshot of Clerks additional responsibilities created by the "Alternate Voting" procedures created by Paul Stamoulis in the "Polling Location Pandemic Procedures 2022" for Charlotte County, Florida.
A clerk’s additional responsibilities listed in the “Alternate Voting” procedures created by Paul Stamoulis in the “Polling Location Pandemic Procedures 2022” for Charlotte County, Fla. (Screenshot)

The clerk then must tell the voter that they are going to take their ballot inside to the polling room, where the ballot will be added to the tabulator. In the meantime, a third poll worker, the assistant clerk, also must halt their inside duties, which includes covering for the clerk in their absence, in order to document the procedure for the voter with a “recording device,” leaving no one left to assist voters and other poll workers with ballot casting and check in issues.

“The Assistant Clerk records the ballot going from the voter to insertion into the DS200,” the manual states. Then, the clerk “returns to show the voter the video that their ballot was tabulated.”

“Once the voter sees the video, it is deleted (in front of the voter).”

Florida Election Laws

According to Fla. Stat. § 102.031, “No photography is permitted in the polling room or early voting area.” Florida’s Voter’s Bill of Rights states that an elector has the right to “Vote free from coercion or intimidation by elections officers or any other person.”

According to Fla. Stat. § 104.20, “Any elector who, except as provided by law, allows his or her ballot to be seen by any person; takes or removes, or attempts to take or remove, any ballot from the polling place before the close of the polls; places any mark on his or her ballot by which it may be identified; endeavors to induce any elector to show how he or she voted; aids or attempts to aid any elector unlawfully; or prints or procures to be printed, or has in his or her possession, any copies of any ballot prepared to be voted is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”

Forcing a voter to have possession of their ballot outside of the polling location, where anyone could walk up and see it, subjects the voter to committing a third-degree felony.

Stamoulis Responds

When asked by The Epoch Times about his policies and procedures that appear to violate at least three executive orders and several statutes in Florida’s election laws, Stamoulis said in an email: “Regarding the sanitizing and social distancing issues, please see Governor Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order cited, in part, below.” He then pasted the following:

“STATE OF FLORIDA

OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
EXECUTIVE ORDER NUMBER 20-149
Section 3.  Election Administration Coordination A.  Each Supervisor of Elections shall ensure proper social distancing and cleaning procedures are implemented for Early Voting and Election Day, insofar as is practicable.  This may include, but is not limited to, spacing out voting stations, the use of physical barriers for poll workers interacting with voters, providing personal protective equipment to poll workers, and making hand sanitizer and other cleaning products readily available.”

DeSantis signed executive order 20-149 (pdf) on June 17, 2020, which was superseded by the three aforementioned Executive Orders.

“Masks are optional but not required of voters or poll workers in Florida,” Stamoulis said.

However, his manual clearly states on Page 6, under the heading, “What We Expect Our Voters to Do for Our Community,” that voters are expected to “Arrive with sanitized hands and a face mask.” Under the heading “What We Will Do for You,” it says poll workers will “provide masks for those without.”

“We are awaiting a ruling on the temperature issue,” Stamoulis added.

However, on the last page of his manual, Stamoulis states “The Supervisor of Elections Is the Final Authority When It Comes to Decisions Surrounding COVID in Our Offices and Polling Locations.”

“In response to me being the final authority on COVID issues, please be advised that I follow the law in all matters, including Executive Orders, no exceptions,” he added.

DeSantis’s Office Responds

The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis disagrees.

“Florida law is the final authority when it comes to elections in the state,” DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw told The Epoch Times. “Supervisors of elections must follow state law. If a supervisor is found to be in violation of the law, the governor has the authority to suspend that person from office.”

Under state law, Pushaw asserted that Floridians can’t be required to wear a mask by any government official or entity, which means that a mask mandate for voting wouldn’t be permissible.

“Beyond the mask issue, this document as a whole is concerning because it could scare citizens into thinking they must comply or simply not show up,” Pushaw said. “In other words, this could be seen as voter suppression. It needs to be rectified to be clear to voters about their rights.

“We do not accept ‘COVID protocols’ that could suppress legal votes or prevent anyone from voting in person.”

Florida Department of State Weighs In

“We were made aware of the document and reached out to Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) Stamoulis to discuss,” Mark R. Ard, a Florida Department of State spokesman,  told The Epoch Times.

“After our conversation, Supervisor Stamoulis understands the concerns presented within the document in question and is revising his policy so that all voters in Charlotte County will [have] equal access to ballots and there are no restrictions on voting. We appreciate Supervisor Stamoulis for being very collaborative throughout the process as we continue to work together to ensure safe, transparent elections in Florida.”

As a result of reporting on Aug. 5 by The Epoch Times’ sister media outlet NTD News about Stamoulis’s efforts to implement polling procedures that violate Florida laws, “the Florida Department of State has addressed the issue.” Stamoulis’s office told NTD that “the Polling Procedures Manual has been revised” and “all clerks and poll workers have been notified via email of the prohibition against temperature screening and the alternate voting procedure.”

Stamoulis or Ard didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for an update on how the policy has been revised.

Questionable Equipment Security

During the course of the investigation, The Epoch Times also received another manual, which raises serious questions regarding election equipment security at “polling locations that do not have a secured/locked room to store equipment.”

According to the “2022 Election Cycle” training manual for “Clerks and Assistant Clerks,” the Charlotte County SOE’s security procedure for storing EViDs and ballot tabulators at unsecured locations consists of laying a large tarp “flat on the floor,” placing the equipment on the tarp, pulling the tarp over the equipment and fitting the U-bar of a combination lock through grommeted holes.

2022 Election Cycle training manual for Clerks and Assistant Clerks
Equipment security procedures from the 2022 Election Cycle training manual for clerks and assistant clerks for the Supervisor of Elections in Charlotte County, Fla. (Screenshot)

While the manual indicates “there should be no holes to allow access” to the equipment inside the tarp, there’s nothing to prevent anyone with a pair of scissors from cutting through the tarp to access the equipment. Should any of the seals be found broken, the equipment would have to be replaced. This isn’t a simple matter because of a complicated procedure involved in staging an EViD for an election.

A meticulous and time-consuming Logic and Accuracy Testing procedure also must be performed with ballot tabulators, including the DS200 (pdf), used by Charlotte County, and the ritual must be witnessed and verified by a canvassing board. Considering the high cost of election equipment, odds are that there are limited spare ready-to-go ballot tabulators and EViDs sitting around in some other secure location ready for use when security measures at a polling location have failed.

‘Serious Concerns’

Pushaw said that because the Pandemic Procedures manual is already in the hands of poll workers, some of them are still going to believe that they must enforce the outlined rules.

“Our position is that these policies need to be revised to make clear that voters cannot be required to participate in COVID protocols in order to exercise their right to vote,” she said. “More broadly, no official anywhere in the state is permitted to enact policies that violate Florida law. To summarize, we have serious concerns about this document and this Supervisor’s approach to elections administration.”

Correction: The headline of this article has been updated to more accurately describe the election concerns.

Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas: patricia.tolson@epochtimes.us