JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Not so long ago, voting was widely regarded as one of our greatest rights as Americans. Lately, elections seem to divide us more than bring us together.
More than half of Florida’s registered voters used to show up for every single election. “Turnout” has remained high in general elections, particularly when a presidential race is on the ballot. Every fourth November, more than 70% of voters cast ballots.
But turnout is always lower in non-presidential years and can be downright dismal for primary elections, such as the one Florida is holding right now. The number of Floridians voting in primary elections hasn’t surpassed 30% since the mid-1990s.
Fewer registered voters participate in Florida primary elections
Not only do “mid-term” elections lack the luster of presidential contests, but many people may perceive them as less important. Primary races suffer even more of an image problem as the “real” election comes in November.
If you’re one of the 2.1 million Floridians that has already voted, either by returning a mail-in ballot or voting during the early voting period that ended over the weekend, thank you.
If you haven’t voted and are thinking of not bothering, here are three reasons that might motivate you to change your mind.
Reason #1: Many races end with the primary
Some people might think the most interesting thing to we’ll learn when the polls close Tuesday night is whether Democrats picked Charlie Crist or Nikki Fried to try and deny Gov. Ron DeSantis a second term. There’s a lot more at stake than that.
One of Northeast Florida’s members of Congress will be elected Tuesday. And half of the state House of Representatives seats in our area will effectively be chosen in this primary because the winner will face either token or literally nameless opposition in November’s general election. Jacksonville’s property tax referendum will pass or it will fail on Tuesday and school board members in most counties will be selected in this election.
November will be too late for your voice to be heard in these races, so don’t sit this election out.
Some partisan races will be decided now because one party or the other did not field a candidate in races where they didn’t think they stood a chance because of the demographic makeup of that district or county. Add in a quirk in Florida election law involving write-in candidates, and many of these contests will effectively be settled by primary voters of a single party.
As a result, at least one lawmaker in almost every county in WJXT’s viewing area will be elected to office in the primary or at least advance to a general election as the only name on the ballot.
Other races, including Jacksonville’s school property tax referendum and school board seats across the state, are nonpartisan -- appearing on all voters’ ballots regardless of party -- just like a general election. If a candidate gets at least 50.1% of the vote, they’re elected.
Jacksonville’s sheriff and city council special elections are also nonpartisan (called “unitary” by the city), but with three or more candidates in each race, they will all likely advance to a runoff in November.
WHAT’S ON YOUR BALLOT: News4Jax Voter’s Guide
Reason #2: Low turnout makes your vote more valuable
Sure, every vote counts only once. But if only 25% of registered voters turn out, simple math tells us each vote makes three times as much difference in the outcome than when there’s a 75% turnout.
In a partisan race with three or more candidates, one could advance to the general election with less than half of the vote of just one party. And his/her opponent(s) In November may not even appear on the ballot.
One example: Three Republicans are running for Florida House District 16 – Kiyan Michael, Lake Ray and Chet Stokes. One of those candidates could win the primary with just over a third of the vote of the Republicans who turned out.
Bear with me here, this gets a little complicated. Say this primary race is decided because one candidate gets 40% of one party’s voters who turn out. But 70% of Republicans stay home and Democrats and independents (more than half of the electorate) are left out because it’s a closed primary, so someone will very likely win this seat in the Florida legislative by receiving votes from fewer than 10% of the district’s registered voters.
(Yes, the Republican primary winner will appear in the general election for all voters, but his/her name will be the only one appearing on the ballot for District 16. Write-in candidates’ names aren’t printed on the ballot and almost never win.)
Parties love this scenario because their most passionate supporters can elect the most partisan candidates.
Reason #3: It’s easy
You’ve probably seen coverage and/or campaign commercials for several races and may have even visited our Voter’s Guide and scrolled through dozens of contests listed. But because each of us only sees two or three statewide races and a few representing the districts and jurisdictions where we live, most of us will only see about a half dozen contests on the ballot.
And with the designated precinct in your neighborhood open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the relatively low turnout expected, you should be able to get in, vote, and get out in just a few minutes.
Bonus reason: It’s a vote of confidence in American democracy
Regardless of your opinion of how the 2020 presidential election was conducted, people of almost all political persuasions agree that Florida ran a secure election and the results were legitimate.
Yet, because of the national rhetoric, election officials and poll workers in our state have been questioned and maligned.
Help turn the page on that ugliness by voting. And while you’re there, maybe smile and say thank you to your neighbors who are voting as well as the ordinary citizens who will spend 14 hours working at your precinct Tuesday just so we all have the chance to exercise one of the greatest rights we have as Americans.