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60% of Floridians voted by mail

Quiet election day, quick results after record number of voters mailed it in

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One million more mail-in ballots were cast in the 2020 Florida primary than during the 2018 primary, which made for a less stressful election day this year -- welcome amid precations taken for the coronavirus.

Even more Floridians are expected to vote by mail in November.

More than 2.3 million vote-by-mail ballots were received by the 7 p.m. Tuesday deadline. That’s 60.2% of the votes cast in this primary and a 74% increase in mail ballots received over those cast in the state’s 2018 primary, according to the Florida Division of Elections website.

“We had a lot of mail voting, you know, in Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday. “It’s a safe way to do it. You request the ballot. You get it. You send it in. It’s not just ballots floating everywhere. So, a lot of folks availed themselves of that, and that obviously will be something that will be available in the fall as well.”

Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said his office is already getting requests for mail-in ballots for the November general election -- which won’t be ready for a few weeks. People are encouraged to return them early since, in Duval County alone, 487 ballots arrive in Wednesday’s mail, which won’t count under Florida law.

Growth of mail-in voting in recent Florida primaries

Voters who showed up in person Tuesday to cast ballots in Florida’s primary elections encountered few hiccups, with officials deploying thousands of face masks, buckets of hand sanitizer and cartons of disposable pens as safeguards amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were a few mix-ups for people whose voting precincts had been changed or who tried to cast ballots at early voting sites, which shut down Saturday and Sunday, according to McClenaghan, who is the coordinator of volunteers for the Florida Election Protection Coalition. Some Jacksonville voters said they found their precincts had closed, but Hogan said those changes were made three weeks before election day and the changes were posted and included on sample ballots mailed to the voters who were impacted.

Some mishaps were unrelated to the pandemic, but caused by a more timeworn Florida condition: the weather.

A powerful storm in Tallahassee late Tuesday afternoon caused power outages at several precincts, blew over a mail-in ballot drop-off tent outside of the elections office and set off sprinklers at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said.

“That little spot of weather turned into quite the excitement for Leon County elections,” Earley said.

After the polls closed at 7 p.m., Broward County Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci told the News Service that in-person turnout Tuesday was “moderate,” but that overall turnout was the largest in the county’s primary-election history.

“We’re going to be a little over 25%, which doesn’t sound like much in the real world, but in the primary, it’s big numbers,” Antonacci said.

The state’s primary elections came amid President Donald Trump’s repeated complaints about voting by mail. The Republican president has linked mail-in voting with election fraud, singling out states that have sent out unsolicited vote-by-mail ballots or applications. Florida voters must request mail-in ballots.

In a seeming reversal, Trump recently encouraged voters in Florida --- a battleground state whose 29 electoral votes are considered crucial for a White House win by Republicans and Democrats in November --- to vote by mail. He called the state’s system “Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” in a tweet.

“An odd confluence of influences” made it difficult to predict voter behavior in the primary elections, Antonacci said.

“People are scared to show up in person, and at the same time people are being distrustful of putting their ballots in the mail,” he added.

Antonacci acknowledged that some Broward County polling sites were switched late due to cancellations sparked by the pandemic.

“Our last eviction was 10 days ago. They just kept kicking us out. So when that happens, you have to put a sign up best that you can. You don’t have time to even notify the voters,” he said.

The voting-site changes were posted on the elections supervisor’s website, Antonacci said.

“We had signs in front of every precinct that had been relocated, directing the voters to the new precinct, and we had that relocation list on our website, but sometimes people don’t check the record before,” he said.

While areas of the state experienced some glitches, voting throughout Florida proceeded smoothly overall.

“Today was pretty quiet. That’s the word I’d use, and other people keep using. One person even described it as ‘eerily quiet,’” All Voting is Local state director Brad Ashwell, whose organization is part of the Florida Election Protection Coalition, told the News Service on Tuesday evening.

Nearly 80% of pre-election day votes were done by mail, according to elections officials.

Speaking to reporters at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Secretary of State Laurel Lee praised the work of elections officials and their staff.

“In all, the challenges were isolated and we had an orderly and successful day. We are in unprecedented times and what we have seen today has been an incredible exercise of cooperation between Florida’s voters, the pollworkers and the supervisors of elections to ensure that Florida’s elections continue today safely and securely across our state,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Lee said wait times at precincts should be minimal because -- between early voting and mail-in ballots -- nearly 2.8 million votes were cast before Tuesday.

“Today is an excellent opportunity for us, at the state and local level, to put into place all of the plans we have been developing these last several months, to ensure that we are abiding by all health and safety protocols that are necessary at the polling locations,” she said.

Antonacci has been in a friendly competition with neighboring elections supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Election results in the three South Florida counties frequently have been delayed.

News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.

Senior reporter, News Service of Florida