Despite strong early voting, primary turnout lowest in years

Duval County elections chief blames low turnout on negative campaigning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Despite strong early voting, primary day turnout in Duval County was the lowest in years.

Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, who on Monday predicted turnout could reach 23 percent, kept lowering that estimate all day Tuesday. When all the votes were counted, barely 20 percent of Jacksonville's registered voters had cast ballots.

Turnout was stronger in neighboring counties, with 25 percent turnout in Clay County and 37 percent in Nassau.

While some political observers believe the lack of marquis, statewide races in Florida's primary would keep turnout low, Holland thinks it's something else.

"Sometimes they say negativity will drive down turnout," Holland said. "We've seen some very negative races ... piling up from one election to another. People are getting tired of negative campaigns."

Despite fewer days of early voting this year, the numbers of votes cast were up both in Jacksonville and across the state. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida's top elections official, said slightly more than 1 million ballots were cast either early or absentee -- 357,000 more than in the 2008 primary.

While there is a U.S. Senate seat on both parties' primary ballot, there was never really a question that Sen. Bill Nelson would be the Democratic nominee for a third term. Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV cruised to an easy victory over his underfunded opponent, Dave Weldon.

Two redrawn congressional seats have drawn multiple candidates and some voter attention.

Three Republicans challenged Rep. Cliff Stearns in newly drawn District 3, which forced the incumbent from Ocala to buy a house on Fleming Island to have a residence in the district. Gainesville veterinarian Ted Yoho had a narrow lead over the six-term congressman, with state Sen. Steve Oelrich and Clay County Clerk of Court James Jett trailing behind.

Congressional District 6 -- which now includes St. Johns, Flagler and parts of Putnam and Volusia counties -- drew seven Republicans and two Democrats. With 39 percent, political newcomer Ron DeSantis appeared headed to the nomination, with former Jacksonville City Councilman Richard Clark finished in fifth place.

Because Florida has done away with runoffs in partisan races, both those congressional races will have a candidate advance to November's General Election with well below 50 percent of the vote.

Perhaps one of the most watched races in the state involved Rep. John Mica, who used to represent St. Johns County and Flagler counties prior to redistricting. Despite his district redrawn to include another incumbent congressman, Sandy Adams, Mica cruised to an easy primary victory.

Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, withstood a challenge from two opponents -- one also an incumbent lawmaker -- in the GOP primary in House District 17. R enuart captured 39 percent of the vote in the St. Johns County district. Renuart will face no-party candidate Sue Sharp and a write-in candidate in November.

The biggest primary races in Duval County were Clerk of Courts, school board and public defender, circuit judges and county judge, but candidates have blanketed the city with campaign signs and were working the phones in the run up to the primary.

Seven northeast Florida counties had a sheriff's race on the primary, along with dozens of other county offices and county commission races.

Some of those who did turn out to vote Tuesday were critical of those who didn't bother.

"My right and my obligation," one voter told Channel 4's Jim Piggott. "I'm getting tired of hearing people complaining. If they vote, then they need to shut up."

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