Florida’s history-making voter turnout in the 2018 election surpassed the 4 million mark Thursday.
The Republican advantage in total early votes cast is holding, but the gap between the two parties keeps narrowing. The GOP accounts for 41.5 percent of ballots so far and Democrats 40.1 percent. Independents and minor-party voters are picking up the pace and now are 18.4 percent of ballots cast.
How does that breakdown compare to 2014, when Republicans won all four big statewide races and Gov. Rick Scott narrowly won re-election?
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Four years ago, Republicans made up 42.4 percent of the early vote, Democrats made up 39.6 percent and all others were 18 percent.
So this year’s combined early and vote-by-mail turnout shows closer two-party competition and a slightly stronger independent streak. Here are the 2014 numbers.
It’s a midterm like no other in modern times in Florida. Four million votes in hand four days before the election — that has never happened in a midterm.
Among the many unanswered questions: Are independents favoring Democrats as polls suggest? Will there be a weekend surge in early voting, and will it favor Democrats? Will Republicans dominate in precinct voting on Election Day, as they did in 2014 and 2016?
The turnout patterns reflect lots of enthusiasm — and a blue tide, if not a blue wave. Turnout through Thursday was 29 percent in Miami-Dade and Broward, the two largest counties and the ones with the most Democratic voters.
But there’s a red wave on the state’s heavily Republican west coast where turnout was 43 percent in Collier County and 41 percent in Lee through Thursday.
Those counties are smaller. But the Republican formula for midterm success has included higher-than-average turnouts in the dozens of medium-sized counties in the Panhandle and central and Southwest Florida.
Upstate in strongly Republican Sumter County, home of The Villages, 54 percent have already voted, and Democrats are taking notice.
In an email fundraising pitch Friday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson kept up his running-scared strategy against Scott, telling supporters that Democratic turnout is still too low across the state.
Sixteen counties will provide early voting through Sunday, Nov. 4, that will include the “Souls to the Polls” following church services.
Those counties are Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Leon, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Seminole, St. Lucie, Suwannee and Volusia.
Eight other counties that were in the path of Hurricane Michael can keep early voting “mega-centers” open through Sunday, too. They are Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson., Liberty and Washington.