State Politics

1.7 million ballots already cast in Florida ahead of Tuesday’s primary

Various campaign workers approach voters as they go to cast their votes at the North Miami Library polling station on Sunday, August 28, 2016.
Various campaign workers approach voters as they go to cast their votes at the North Miami Library polling station on Sunday, August 28, 2016. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Florida voters who go to the polls Tuesday will have the last word in a low-turnout statewide primary election that began more than a month ago.

Through Sunday, the last day of early voting, 1.7 million people had cast ballots, two-thirds of them by mail and the rest at early voting centers. Voting by mail started the last week of July and early voting began in many urban areas on Aug. 15.

READ MORE: Election Day questions and answers

After enduring an onslaught of TV ads, mail and phone calls, voters will choose six members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and scores of county officeholders.

They also will nominate candidates for U.S. Senate and decide a ballot proposal to add a property tax break for solar energy equipment to the state Constitution.

Turnout has been slow but steady and is expected to exceed the total in each of the past four statewide primaries.

In the most recent primary in a presidential election year in 2012, turnout was 2.3 million, or 20.5 percent of the electorate.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, noted Monday that after a month of voting, 13 percent of voters in Hillsborough had cast ballots.

“We have had a month of vote by mail and two weeks of early voting,” Castor said. “We can do a lot better. People need to value their right to vote, and they need to get out there Tuesday and exercise their right to vote.”

The race that drew the most statewide interest — and it wasn’t very intense — features primaries in both major parties for U.S. Senate, with polls showing Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy favored to defeat their challengers. It’s the first Florida Senate race in memory in which neither party’s candidates participated in any TV debates.

But that’s likely to change. Wins by Rubio and Murphy will set the stage for a highly competitive November contest that will help decide whether Republicans keep control of the Senate with a new president.

Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, reported the highest number of early voters Monday and ranked second to Pinellas in mail ballots.

Anthony Stiso, 57, of Miami Beach, voted early. He said he heeded Gov. Rick Scott’s advice to vote because of potentially stormy weather Tuesday.

“A storm is coming. That helped get me out,” said Stiso, who voted at a library and appreciated not having to wait in line.

“It’s just so easy to walk right over,” he said.

Fears of a major election day storm in South Florida have eased, but forecasts show a lingering threat of rain across the peninsula on Tuesday.

Stiso, a Democrat, said he’ll be glad when the primary is over.

“I got more negative postcards than positive,” he said. “I’m kind of turned off to the negative slant.”

Other voters were exasperated by a daily barrage of mail pitches.

In a hard-fought four-person Democratic primary for a Tampa Bay Senate seat, Robert King of Gulfport complained about the constant flow of mail from St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer Augie Ribeiro.

“Every day I was getting this color advertisement from him that must have cost millions of dollars,” said King, 69, who cast his ballot for former Rep. Betty Reed of Tampa.

“I just voted for her because she’s a woman,” King said. “I think that overall, women tend to be better at governance than men, to tell you the truth.”

Voting by mail has become increasingly popular as election supervisors promote it as a convenience. But some voters still prefer to vote in person.

Rosalyn McGill, 67, of Tampa, a retired educator, said early voting gives her peace of mind.

“I wanted to make sure I wrote my vote out, put it through the machine and see that it was counted,” she said. “I don’t want anything to come up on election day and hindering me from exercising my right to vote.”

Through Sunday, Jacksonville’s Duval County reported the second-highest number of early voters. Turnout was bolstered by a highly publicized county-wide sales tax question involving the city’s pension fund.

Duval was one of 10 counties holding early voting Sunday, an optional 14th day known as “Souls to the Polls” when church pastors made last-minute reminders to parishioners to cast ballots.

A steady stream of cars poured into a Jacksonville library Sunday as voters rendered their verdict on U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who is seeking a 13th term while under indictment for 24 felony counts of mail fraud and wire fraud.

“I think she’s doing OK,” said Reginald Lucas, 63, a retired Jacksonville physical education teacher. “I don’t have a heaven or hell to put anybody in. You can’t judge somebody guilty without due process.”

As of Monday’s totals, the five counties with the most mail ballots were Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough and Broward, and the five with the most early voters were Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward, Palm Beach and Orange.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. The state Division of Elections will report returns starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time because much of the Panhandle is in the Central Time Zone.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Jack Suntrup and Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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

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