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Early Voting, Vote-By-Mail At Record Levels In Northwest Florida

Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Office

Early Voting in Florida wrapped up on Saturday, with all counties in the northwest part of the state reporting turnout at 55% or higher. There were more in-person early votes cast than through the mail.

Early turnout in Escambia and Walton Counties were at 55%, with Santa Rosa at 56. Okaloosa led the region at just over 60% as of Monday, according to Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux.

“We had a whole lot of early voting this time; we nearly maxed out the available time that we had,” said Lux. “And even with one of our sites in my main office being closed due to COVID, we were successfully able to reroute most of the people who turned up here.”

Not only did COVID-19 close the elections office, it also sidelined Lux with a mild case of the ailment. He says he’s now doing “very well.”

“I was back behind my desk on the absolute first day I was allowed to come back; hadn’t had a fever in days, my taste and smell had already returned,” Lux said. ‘My wife never contracted it at all; she just ended her quarantine [Monday].”

For the 2020 election cycle, Lux’s office mailed an additional 20,000 ballots, compared to 2016. Lux says the pandemic played a role in that.

“Our percentage of turnout in 2016, we mailed 28,000 and got back 23,000,” Lux said. “So was a return rate of about 82%. Now we’re looking at about a 74% turnout. We’re still checking in ballots; that number’s only to continue to climb.”

In Escambia, Elections chief David Stafford says their 55% mark is the largest-ever early turnout before a ballot is cast on an Election Day. 

“And that number will rise; it’s not going to rise by a large margin, but we’re still receiving vote-by-mail ballots and then people coming in and dropping off their ballot,” Stafford said. “That number of returned vote-by-mail ballots will increase. And then, of course, we begin Election Day Tuesday. Yes, [we’re] every pleased; people are voting.”

As for Election Day, Stafford says the “universe of votes left” out there, obviously, is smaller than in past elections. The modern turnout record, he says, was 80%  set in 2008.

“I say ‘modern’ because that’s after the National Voter Registration Act was passed [in 1994], so you’ve got to take turnout before the passage of that, and turnout after that and treat them a little bit differently, said Stafford. For us to get there, it’s only going to take about another 50,000 to 60,000 Election Day votes over the 80 precincts around the county.”

National media outlets have been reporting that the White House and Republican operatives may be poised to shut down counting the votes at a certain point after Election Day. Stafford concedes that may be possible in some states, but it’s less likely to occur in Florida.

“We can begin – and have begun – canvassing our vote-by-mail ballots weeks in advance, to the point we’ve got very few left yet to canvass,” said Stafford. “And then all of the early votes that are cast. So by the end of Election Night, well above 90% of the votes cast in the election in Florida should be reported.”

Statewide, Florida Democrats have cast 108,000 more ballots than Republicans, as the nation’s largest swing state heads into Tuesday. Both parties in Florida have engaged multitudes of lawyers, ready to rush to court at any sign of voter suppression, fraud or other political shenanigans.