After record mail & early voting, Florida braces for Election Day

Duval County’s supervisor of elections expects lines of voters Tuesday

Election staff predicting between a 85% to 90% increase in voters.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Floridians have shattered records for both early and in-person early voting this year. While some believe they were motivated to vote in advance of Election Day over concerns pandemic concerns, elections officials expect big crowds across at neighborhood precincts on Tuesday, as well.

When the Florida Divisions of Elections tallied the votes after the last early voting sites closed Sunday evening, nearly 9 million votes were cast either in person or had been returned to elections offices. That represents 62% of all registered voters in the state and is 93% of the votes received at this point in the last presidential election.

Records were shattered in both vote-by-mail and early, on-site voting in Florida and ballots cast represent 93% of all votes received in 2016. It is widely expected that Florida’s total vote count when the tallies are completed Tuesday evening (or beyond) will be the highest in history.

Four years ago, 74.5% of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in the general election. The modern record is 83% in 1992.

Turnout comparison

Voting by mail isn’t as popular in Jacksonville and neighboring counties as in South Florida, but early voting exceeded 2016 everywhere. The turnout before Election Day exceeded 60% in all counties. Duval County’s Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan estimated total voter turnout could reach 90%, meaning another 200,000 voters could show up at the polls in Jacksonville on Tuesday.

Crowds are expected in other counties across Florida, as well.

Turnout in Northeast Florida counties

While Florida counties are allowed to process vote-by-mail ballots before Election Day, we won’t know who they voted for until after the polls close Tuesday evening. The state does release the party affiliation of the votes that have been cast, which the candidates and election watchers have been looking at closely for clues as to which candidate will win Florida’s popular vote, and therefore its 29 Electoral College votes.

The Democrats got out to a fast start in mail-in ballots and ran up a 650,000 advantage. Republicans have almost made up the difference by voting in person in larger numbers, casting 550,000 more ballots than Democrats. Given President Donald Trump’s continuing yet unfounded warning of massing mail voting fraud, Republican voters could well outnumber Democrats on Election Day, as well.

The wild-card is the fastest-growing category of voters -- no party affiliation -- that cast nearly 2 million votes either by mail or during early voting.

Steve Schale, Tallahassee-based CEO of the super PAC Unite the Country, which backs Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, said Monday the turnout has been “crazy” high.

“There’s nothing that I look at this data with a huge red flag on,” Schale said. “That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go put $100 on an outcome. I’m never, ever going to be completely confident about the outcome of Florida. But I’m more optimistic than I was a week ago, to be honest.”

The University of Virginia Center for Politics' Sabato’s Crystal Ball, tilted the state toward Trump.

“If one goes by the polls, Biden should be favored in Florida, albeit only by a little. Yet we have seen the Democrats (and even the polls) come up short in the Sunshine State so often, including in the Democratic wave year of 2018, that we needed unmistakable signs to pick them there this time,” the university’s center posted Monday. “We just don’t see those signs in this complex state with lots of moving parts. Therefore, we’re picking Trump in his adopted home state of Florida.”

Mail votes outstanding, challenged

The state shows that 1,354,566 ballots sent to voters have yet to be returned. Those people may bring them to their precinct and turn them in in order to vote in person or drive the mail ballot to the county’s supervisor of elections office by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

One of the outstanding ballots belongs to Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis.

“I’m going to walk it in," she said Monday.

Any ballots sent to military addresses have an extra 10 days to be received, under Florida law.

The Duval County canvassing board was working Monday looking at 500 ballots that raised questions. These were either mail ballots where more than one candidate was in a race selected or other markings that makes the voters' intent questionable and provision ballots -- those voted in person during early voting where a person was allowed to vote without providing identification or some other issue.

Any voters with spoiled mail ballots because of signature or other issues have until 5 p.m. Thursday to fix them.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

If you still have a mail ballot you can drop it off downtown.

About the Authors:

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