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Florida Election Supervisors Prep for Presidential Primary

Jennie McKeon

Florida’s presidential primary is just around the corner – March 17 – and elections supervisors want to make sure voters have their ducks in a row.

“We’ve got pretty good registration numbers, we’re up over 215,000 registered voters; we’re getting a very high response rate to vote-by-mail. All signs point towards robust participation in this election cycle,” said David Stafford, election supervisor for Escambia County.

He also reminds those planning to vote in the primary that the deadline to register — or change party affiliation — is February 18.

“If you’re registered to vote – say you’ve just moved into the area and you’re from a different Florida county – then that’s treated as a ‘change of address,’” said Stafford. “So the voter registration deadline does not apply. But if you’re not currently a registered voter in the state of Florida, you need to pay attention to that voter registration deadline.”

Registering to vote in Florida can be done in myriad ways: in person at your county supervisor’s office; registering online at www.escambiavotes.com, or picking up an application at a public library, public assistance agencies, or virtually any governmental building.

And Stafford says beware — Florida is a “closed primary” state.

Credit escambiavotes.com
David Stafford, Escambia County Election Supervisor.

“What that means, very simply, is that if you want to vote in the Republican primary you have to be a registered Republican; if you want to vote in the Democratic primary you have to be a registered Democrat,” Stafford says. “We’ve got about 21% of registered voters in Escambia County, currently either are no party affiliation [NPA], or are affiliated with a third party. Those folks literally have nothing to vote on in the March primary election.”

Casting a ballot can be done one of three ways: at the polling place on March 17; early voting, or vote-by-mail. Ballots are also going out to military personnel deployed overseas, and other Floridians living outside the state.

“I’m pleased to report my county will have ballots out 53 days before the election; the deadline is not later than 45 days,” says Paul Lux, Okaloosa County’s election chief.

“Here in Okaloosa we have two municipalities (Valparaiso and Mary Esther) whose elections will be held in conjunction with that,” said Lux. “I know there are a lot of counties who were done with their ballot last year when the certifications came out; but we had to wait for a couple of municipalities to do their candidate qualifying process because they’ll appear on the same ballot.”

This year’s primary date is a week after Super Tuesday. And that’s OK with Lux.

Credit Okaloosa Co.
Paul Lux, Election Supervisor in Okaloosa Co.

“I think they would still provide plenty of campaign dollars, just because of the number of delegates Florida’s going to be sending to the [national] conventions,” Lux says. “But at the same time it really is hit-or-miss. You can’t predict whether going earlier or later is going to make your delegate count more important.”

Along with the 66 other election offices, Santa Rosa’s has been a hotbed of activity. Supervisor Tappie Villane kicked off poll worker training last week, in the run up to the primary.

“We’ve trained about 50 folks; we typically work with about 300 that help us out during the election cycle,” Villane said. “But each and every election cycle it’s typically around 300 or a little bit over.”

Florida law requires that poll workers be trained before each and every election, because every cycle is different.

“This is a presidential preference primary; this particular election only comes around once every four years, so people forget we have them,” said Villane. “There are only two ballot styles that we have: the Democratic and Republican ballot styles.”

Poll worker training covers a lot of ground, says Villane; the election-day equipment includes the electronic poll book, which is used in many precincts to check in voters.

Credit Santa Rosa County
Tappie Villane, Elections Supervisor for Santa Rosa County.

“Some of our precincts still have the paper rosters; but many of our precincts now have the electronic poll book,” Villane says. “So we do hands-on training with those; our DS-200 which tabulates a ballot – we do hands-on training with those and then also we utilize the Automark marking device for people with disabilities.”

At a later date, Villane says they’ll offer what she calls “general training,” which includes a review of policies and procedures for all election cycles.

“We can train for a primary and we can train for a general [election] because those two elections are very different,” said Villane. “We also offer what we call ‘sensitivity training’ where we train poll workers on how to work with someone with a disability.”

More information on getting ready to vote in the Florida primary is available at your county’s elections office, or their websites.