And they’re off!
Florida's primary election season is underway after qualifying ended on Friday.
It’s a full plate for voters in Pensacola, with seats up for grabs on the City Council, Escambia County Commission, the Florida and U.S. Houses of Representatives, as well as an open seat for Pensacola Mayor.
“It was very busy qualifying; we had 52 candidates over the course of these two qualifying periods, and these are just candidates that qualified with our office. There’s a whole host of candidates that qualified with the folks in Tallahassee,” said David Stafford, Escambia County’s Supervisor of Elections.
Besides the available seats, he also points to the current political environment, both at home and elsewhere.
“You may question that type of engagement, but what we’re seeing is there seems to be a high level of interest politically right now in the process,” Stafford said. “Whether that translates into turnout in August and November, we just have to see.”
Also on the ballot are a number of judgeships and places on the Board overseeing the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.
Voter registration continues by Stafford’s office, but he says the “blue wave-red wave” trend concepts that are being bandied about these days are not showing up in his data at this point.
“We’ve got about 45 percent Republican registration [and] about 34 percent Democratic,” said Stafford. “The biggest trend we’ve seen over the past, say, five or six years, is the rise in voters that are identifying themselves as No Party Affiliation.”
As of the end of May, NPAs in Escambia County numbered more than 42,000 on the voter rolls – roughly 21 percent of total registration. Fifteen years ago that number hovered around five percent. Stafford says NPA is the fastest-growing segment of registered voters in Florida –including the staunchly-Republican Panhandle.
“In Okaloosa the No Party Affiliation group is larger than the [Democratic Party],” said Stafford. “It’s Republicans followed by NPA followed by Democrats. And if you look at the demographics, particularly the age breakdown, a lot of younger voters tend to be represented in that category of No Party Affiliation.”
In Santa Rosa County, out of just over 129,000 registered voters, the number of Republicans enjoy a nearly 3-1 advantage over Democrats, with NPA and third parties combining to also outnumber the Dems.
“That started changing in 2014; 2016 stayed pretty much the same as it its now, said Elections Supervisor Tappie Villane. “But those numbers change, usually with each and every election cycle. So we’ll see how this one plays out.”
Most of the Santa Rosa ballot is complete, awaiting certification by the state on the various county races. The cities of Milton and Gulf Breeze have an August qualifying deadline for the November ballot. Villane says that’s not a problem.
“All of our ballots are precinct-specific,” Villane said. “That’s the way we prepare them, as long as we know what time frames are going to have potential races on the ballot. Then that’s all we need to know.”
Next up is getting ready for the vote itself. Santa Rosa County has four early-voting venues, the same as in 2016.
“Two in the south end [of the county] at the Annex down by the [Gulf Breeze] Zoo; and then one at Tiger Point Community Center,” said Villane. “And then two at the north end; one at the Pace Community Center and one at our main office in Milton.’
Escambia County will offer, for the first time, an eighth early voting site -- Brownsville Community Center.
“Voters will have more opportunity than ever to cast a ballot during that early voting period,” said Escambia Elections Supervisor David Stafford. “And as always, voters can choose to vote my mail; [and] the final opportunity you have to cast a ballot is between seven a.m. and seven p.m. on Election Day at your assigned polling place.”