State, county monitor weather as election looms

Could approaching disturbance affect primary election in Florida?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Everything remains as planned for Tuesday's primaries, but state and local elected officials are encouraging voters to cast their ballots early because of a disturbance in the Caribbean that could threaten Florida around Tuesday.

"Although it is too premature to determine if voters will be impacted by adverse weather conditions, I am in constant contact with Gov. (Rick) Scott, the Division of Emergency Management, and supervisors of elections," Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a prepared statement Thursday. "Any updates that have the potential to impact Florida voters will be immediately communicated."

A broad area of low pressure just southeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday was still disorganized without a well-defined center of circulation.

However, the National Hurricane Center reported the weather system has a 50 percent chance of increasing in strength over the next 48 hours, with an 80 percent chance of development over the next five days.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said early voting is going well, but not as many people have turned out as he had hoped, and a potential storm could drop the numbers even more.

“We were projecting a 35 to 37 percent turnout, and right now, based on the numbers we are seeing in absentee ballot and in early voting, we may have to revise it as much as eight points down to 27 to 28 percent,” Hogan said. "I encourage Duval County voters to take advantage of our eighteen early voting locations and vote early. It’s a good idea to go ahead and vote this weekend, especially in light of the potential for bad weather on Election Day.”

It wouldn’t be the first time weather impacted the ballot box.

Hurricane Andrew’s devastation sent Miami-Dade voters to the polls a week late. And Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 flooded some people in Tallahassee. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho said they had to take emergency action to make sure every vote counted.

"I had to deliver mail ballots and pick up mail ballots through swamp buggies and boats, but we were able to accommodate every voter who wanted to have a ballot counted, and we intend to do the same in 2016," he said.

In May 2015, during a mayoral election in Duval County, heavy thunderstorms and some flooding kept some people away from the polls on Election Day, possibly affect the re-election bid of Mayor Alvin Brown, who had been projected to win but lost to Mayor Lenny Curry.

Political pundits said weather can be a factor, but it affects both sides.

“It's tough because half of the votes come in prior to Election Day, either mail or early voting,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory. “And we're expecting that to be the case this time, too. It's really tough to blame a little bit of weather, because it keeps both people down, both supporters, it suppresses them a little bit. I'm skeptical weather's going to play a big role, but it's something to keep an eye on.”

Hogan said bad weather keeps people away because they think of long lines and getting stuck in the rain, but he said with more than half the people voting early, lines really are not a concern anymore.

But weather could affect poll workers.

“I've got 199 sites, and they're going to have about 1,800 workers,” Hogan said. “They're going to be getting there around 6 a.m., so that's always an issue for us.”

Across Florida, voting precincts are scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

As of Thursday morning, 1.3 million Floridians had already cast ballots -- more than 1 million through the vote-by-mail method and 303,767 via early voting. Early voting ends in most counties on Saturday.

Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties are scheduled to have early voting on Sunday.

In Duval County, voters can cast absentee ballots on Monday and Tuesday only downtown or vote at their normal precinct on Tuesday.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.