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Election Supervisors Expect Good Primary Turnout

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Out of the 13 million registered voters in Florida, about two million have already cast ballots for Tuesday’s primary, surpassing totals from previous years. Turnout was also reported to be up in western Panhandle.

As of Monday morning, about 1.2 million voters mailed it in, and 659,000 took advantage of early voting, which wrapped up on Saturday. Democrats used a final weekend surge to exceed Republicans by 20,000 in early voting, while the GOP led by 65,000 in absentee ballots cast.

Carol Weissert, a political scientist at Florida State University, feels the increase in pre-election day voting does not necessarily mean the overall vote count will be up from years past. It could mean, she says, that campaigns need to get their message out a lot earlier.

“Generally, people who vote early or absentee would have voted anyway,” Weissert said. “So, sometimes it is a substitute rather than an addition. If indeed we see more people voting in person, then that will be quite terrific.”

The numbers are up in Escambia County, where David Stafford is Elections Supervisor.

“When you combine the mail ballots that we’ve gotten in, we’re already at 14 percent turnout,” said Stafford. “We’ll still have some late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots that will add to that total, and then of course, once the polls open at seven a.m. on Tuesday, we’ll have all of those votes to add to that total.”

About 15 to 20 minutes after the polls close at seven o’clock Tuesday evening, the early voting and almost all of the vote-by-mail totals will be released. Traditionally, says Stafford, a candidate leading at that point tends to hold onto their lead.

“Depending on the election it’s sometimes half, sometimes more than half of the votes that are cast, are cast during that early period,” says Stafford. “But you tend not to see wild, huge shifts, barring some fantastic issue that cropped up between the time early voting ended and the time Election Day begins.”

Next door in Santa Rosa County — which has just over 130,000 registered voters — about 15,000 early and by-mail ballots have been cast, also as of Monday morning — for an 11 percent turnout. That county’s early voting period ran for 13 days, and Supervisor Tappie Villane says the turnout was good.

“In 2014 – our last midterm primary election – we only had about 14.75 percent turnout overall,” Villane says. “So I do anticipate this to be much higher than what we saw in 2014. And I think a lot of it attributes to people are choosing to vote early."

In a bit of multitasking, Villane’s office – along with the other 66 election supervisors across Florida – will be finishing up preparations for Tuesday’s primary while beginning work on the ballot for the November 6 general election.

“It will not only have candidates, but it will have all of the amendments on there,” Villane says. “We also have to train poll workers in about the middle to end of September; basically all of the things we’ve been working on for the primary we’ll turn right back around and do for the general.”

The November ballots are currently in a sort of legal limbo. The Florida Supreme Court will hear multiple arguments regarding the proposed amendments from the Constitution Revision Commission. There’s no work on when the court will rule, so Escambia County’s David Stafford says all they can do for that part of the ballot is watch and wait.

“Right now, our mock [ballot] layout has all of the amendments on the ballot; as we get closer and closer to that final stage, we’ll certainly get some communication that says, ‘this one stays, this one comes off.’ Sometimes that happens, unfortunately, after we go to production on our ballots. Then we have to put in contingency plans.”

The key to making sure your vote counts, is making sure you know where to go to cast that ballot. Stafford points to a couple of the larger polling locations that have been changed since the 2016 election cycle.

“Precinct 26, which is the old St. Ann’s Catholic Church; that’s shifted over to the Fairgrounds,” says Stafford. “In East Hill, two polling locations – 40 and 41 – they’re at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart over on 12th Avenue. And then Woodham Middle School, we’ve had to move down the street to Burgess Road Baptist Church.”

More information on how, where and when to vote — both on Tuesday and on November 6 —  can be found at your county’s supervisor of elections website.