Early voting for the August 28 primary is getting underway this week, with some counties kicking off earlier than others.
Eighteen counties, including Santa Rosa, opened their venues on Monday. Elections Supervisor Tappie Villane says voters can cast their ballots at one of four locations.
“We have our main office here in Milton; Pace Community Center, South Service Center down by the zoo in Gulf Breeze, and also the Tiger Point Community Center,” said Villane. “Eight-thirty to 4:30, and it will run through August the 25th.”
Early voting must begin 10 days before Election Day, but counties can add extra days inside an eight to-13-day time frame. Santa Rosa opted for the longer period, starting before neighboring Escambia and Okaloosa Counties.
“We have to do it a minimum of eight days, which actually will start on this coming Saturday, the 18th,” Villane says. “But we also have the option to go a little bit longer. Historically, in Santa Rosa, we have offered the 13 days. Our voters seem to like it so we just decided to keep on track with that.”
In all elections when state or federal seats are up for grabs, early voting is mandated. It’s also allowed in other elections as well, at the discretion of the Supervisor of Elections. Those supervisors – including Escambia County’s David Stafford – also determine the hours of operation at early voting sites.
“Traditionally, primary elections have a significantly lower level of turnout, when compared to general elections,” Stafford says. “It’s an expensive proposition, but we have to balance out the fact that it costs a lot of money to open up and maintain an early voting site when looking at what the expected level of turnout is.”
Light turnouts have been the norm for most of the mid-term votes in recent memory. But Santa Rosa’s Tappie Villane says the political events of this day and age could change that this time around.
“We hope that we’re busy; we’re prepared to the busy, and we will see,” Villane says. “We're anticipating a good turnout.”
Sen. Bill Nelson last week claimed that Russian operatives have "penetrated" some of Florida's voter registration systems ahead of the 2018 midterms. But his first warnings came last January during a hearing with national intelligence officials by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think it is the general assumption that you all have said that our systems can be invaded,” Nelson said in his opening statement. “That has we, as policymakers, concerned. But the average American [is] concerned that there is no privacy anymore.”
Word from both the Department of Homeland Security and Florida Department of State is that Nelson didn’t say anything that’s not already known. Escambia’s David Stafford says there’s been a renewed focus on security since the 2016 election.
“Not only cybersecurity but physical security as well,” said Stafford. “We’ve had folks from state and federal agencies in to help us out; we’ve partnered with the University of West Florida. New resources – hardware, software – to help increase our security posture moving forward.”
There’s talk around the country of a “blue wave” of Democrats at the polls come November. But the number of new Democrats registering to vote appears stagnant, and in some areas – such as Escambia County – virtually non-existent.
“The biggest shift I would say in the last ten years in registration has been the growth of No Party Affiliation [NPA],” Stafford says. “Republican-Democratic; you haven’t really seen much of a shift in the last couple of years.”
Just over 13 million Floridians are registered to vote in the primary, according to the state Division of Elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans — but just barely — as both parties gear up for a fierce battle at the top of the ballot in races for U.S. Senate and Governor.