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Early Voting Off To 'Fantastic' Start In Northwest Florida

WUWF File Photo

In-person early voting for the November 3 general election kicked off Monday in 52 of Florida’s 67 counties – including Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties.

There are no numbers to reflect the turnout at Escambia County’s 10 early voting locations on day number one, but Elections Supervisor David Stafford says it’s “high.”

“We’ve seen historical levels of vote-by-mail; [Monday] being the very first day of early voting, [it’s] very, very popular as well,” said Stafford. “All signs point to a very robust turnout.”

At the West Florida Genealogy Library on 9th Avenue, a line snaked back into an adjacent parking lot filled with vehicles around 11 a.m. One voter was overheard saying their wait to vote was about 90 minutes. Stafford says when coming to vote early, bring your patience.

“The first day is historically one of the busiest; certainly late in the week, into the weekend you tend to see smaller [lines],” said Stafford. “This could be an anomaly but that tends to be what we see. Also, if you have the ability, think about some of the sites that don’t get as much foot traffic – Brownsville Community Center; the Main Library, UWF, Molino and Century.”

As people line up to cast their ballot, Stafford has a reminder that voting-by-mail remains in effect until Election Day. As of midday Monday, more than 2.5 million of Florida’s 14.4 million registered voters had already mailed in their ballots.

“Each of our early voting sites also doubles as a drop box during early voting hours. Those are returned back to the elections office every night after early voting closes,” said Stafford.

“On day one we had over 5,500 people early vote; so it’s been a fantastic turnout,” said Tappie Villane, who oversees elections in Santa Rosa County.

She says the lines were fairly reasonable, most of them forming before the voting locations opened at 7 a.m.

“Throughout the day [Monday] we had some lines but for the most part it’s only taken about 10 to 15 minutes for people to get through it there’s a line at any given location," said Villane. “Historically, the first couple of days of early voting are usually our busiest; and also our last couple of days.”

Voters in Santa Rosa also have two new early polling locations – Santa Rosa County Auditorium in Milton, and Navarre Community Gym. Villane adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s plans, with the same safety measures in place now, will be at the precincts on November 3. 

Credit Dave Dunwoody/WUWF Public Media
Early voters wait in a 90 minute line Monday.

“All of our sites are equipped with the sneeze guard; lots of hand sanitizer, we do encourage people to wear masks if they’re able to,” said Villane. “And then of course, if there are any lines we do encourage social distancing.”

Some reminders for those planning to vote early: bring your photo-signature ID, and be prepared to make your choices.

“We have mailed sample ballots to all voter households; we will also have sample ballots available at the early voting site,” said Villane. “Know what you want to vote for on that ballot. The ballot is long –3 pages. Pages 1-2 are on the same card; and then page three is by itself.”

Meanwhile, Okaloosa County Supervisor Paul Lux announced Monday that he and an employee have tested positive for the coronavirus. That led to the closure of the county’s main office, but four other sites remain open. The predominantly-Republican county has around 150,000 voters.