State Politics

Ballots in mail for 2.2 million Florida primary voters

A pallet of ballots from the Hillsborough County Elections Department is ready to go to the post office on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
A pallet of ballots from the Hillsborough County Elections Department is ready to go to the post office on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office

More than a month before Florida’s statewide primary election, nearly 2.2 million mail ballots are on their way to voters, a pace certain to set a new record.

By late Tuesday, 2,185,619 ballots had been mailed. Florida has about 12.3 million registered voters, so nearly one in five could vote by mail before the Aug. 30 primary.

With five weeks left, the mail ballot total already approaches the 2.3 million cast in the last presidential year primary in 2012.

Nearly half of the mailed ballots, or about 978,000, were from Republicans, another 819,000 were from Democrats, and most of the rest were from voters who have no party affiliation.

As more Floridians embrace what’s called no-excuse absentee voting, election supervisors took to social media to show the huge stacks of ballots headed to mailboxes.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer posted a photo on Twitter of one of eight pallets and included an “I Voted!” sticker with every ballot.

An 18-wheeler, parked outside Broward County Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ voting equipment center in Lauderhill, was poised to relay nearly 144,000 ballots to a post office in Opa-locka. Snipes posted a video of ballots on the move.

“People want to vote,” said Ion Sancho, who for nearly three decades has been supervisor of elections in Tallahassee’s Leon County, which set a record for mail ballot requests for a primary.

Many voters automatically receive mail ballots because they voted by mail in one or both of the last two general elections.

A lot of them won’t vote in the primary. That’s why the next step is “the chase,” as political parties, candidates and interest groups chase down voters who requested mail ballots to remind them to return them.

Miami-Dade has one of the state’s longest primary ballots, with a multitude of federal, state and local races printed in three languages: English, Spanish and Creole.

Statewide, Floridians will nominate candidates for U.S. Senate in three parties (Republican, Democrat and Libertarian) and for Congress in 17 of the state’s 27 districts.

Republican and Democratic voters also will nominate candidates for state Senate in 15 districts and for the state House in 51 districts.

Florida is a closed primary state, which means only Republicans or Democrats can cast ballots in party primaries. Only when a party candidate faces no challenge — where not even a write-in candidate files to run — can all voters, regardless of party affiliation, cast ballots in an open primary.

A total of 11 races will feature open primaries, including a Democratic race for Congress and two Democratic state House races in Miami-Dade; two Democratic state House races in Broward; and a Democratic state House race in Tampa.

All voters, regardless of party, can cast ballots in nonpartisan races such as for school board and judgeships. They also can vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would exempt renewable energy devices on commercial property from property taxes for 20 years. That exemption already exists for residential property.

Voter turnouts in past statewide primaries have hovered at or slightly above the 20 percent mark. But across the state, elections officials have intensified their outreach efforts to encourage more people to vote by mail.

Voters can request a mail ballot until Aug. 24, and the last day to register to vote to be able to cast a primary ballot is Monday, Aug. 1.

Early voting in some counties will begin Aug. 15.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com and follow him @stevebousquet.

Mail ballot requests

The latest available mail ballot requests for the primary on Aug. 30:

▪ Miami-Dade: 218,325

▪ Broward: 146,409

▪ Statewide: 2,185,619

Source: Division of Elections (through 4 p.m. Tuesday)

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