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Early voting sites in Broward and Palm Beach counties are staffed, equipped and ready to go. The voters aren’t.
So far, turnout for in-person early voting in the special primary elections that will determine Florida’s next member of Congress could fairly be described as abysmal.
As of noon Monday, after 20 hours of early voting, only 792 people had used in-person early voting. Over the next three hours, another 217 people voted early.
That works out to one voter every 15 minutes at the 11 early voting locations spread throughout the 20th Congressional District.
In Palm Beach County, Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link said, early voting locations have an average of nine or 10 staffers on duty all day plus support staff and technical teams that support multiple locations.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said turnout is so low that he’s adjusting staffing levels at early voting sites. About 100 people are working at the locations and in support roles. The number will stay about the same, but hours will be reduced so fewer people will be on duty at one time.
The stakes are high. Voters are deciding who will fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings. The district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the winner of the party primary is virtually certain to go to Washington, D.C.
Special elections are notorious for low turnout. The congressional primaries are the only thing on the ballot. Still, Scott said turnout for in-person early voting is about half what his office modeled for the primary.
“I am surprised,” he said. “We all believe that this is a very important office, and we would hope that the level of interest would be much higher.”
Many more people are using mail ballots. The state Division of Elections reported that of the 105,410 mail ballots sent to Democratic and Republican primary voters by the two counties’ elections offices, most last month, 19,495 had been returned by the end of the day Sunday.
Use of mail voting has been increasing for two decades before exploding in popularity last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s still influencing people and reducing interest in voting in person, said Chris Smith, a former state senator and state representative who served as Democratic Party leader in both the Senate and the House.
The district is home to 282,663 Democrats and 58,553 Republicans. (Another 118,564 voters are no party affiliation or registered with minor parties and can’t vote in the primaries.)
20th Congressional District
The 20th District, stretching from Miramar in southwest Broward to Riviera Beach in northeastern Palm Beach County, encompasses most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The district includes all or parts of Belle Glade, Cloud Lake, Fort Lauderdale, Glen Ridge, Haverhill, Lake Park, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, Loxahatchee Groves, Mangonia Park, Miramar, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Pahokee, Palm Beach Gardens, Parkland, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Riviera Beach, Royal Palm Beach, South Bay, Sunrise, Tamarac, West Palm Beach, Wellington and Weston.
State law sets minimum standards for early voting. Broward and Palm Beach counties are offering slightly more than required.
The two counties coordinated, Link said, and both are offering the same days and hours, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., which started Saturday and will run through Oct. 31. There are six sites in Broward County and five in Palm Beach County. The state ultimately picks up the full cost of the special elections.
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“We’re ready for them,” Link said Monday, reached by phone while she was at the early voting site in Riviera Beach. There were few voters, but Link said she was optimistic that early voting would pick up, especially on the final weekend. There weren’t many voters.
“We have more vote by mail that has come in. And we’re hopeful that as the weather gets a little better later in the week, that might help,” Link said. “We’re hopeful that more people will come.”
In-person early voting: As of midday Monday, 583 Democrats in Broward and 149 in Palm Beach County. Among Republicans, 29 in Broward and 31 in Palm Beach county.
Mail ballots: Through Sunday, 10,880 Democrats in Broward and 5,544 in Palm Beach County. Among Republicans, 1,532 Broward and 1,529 in Palm Beach County.
Sources: Broward and Palm Beach county supervisors of elections offices; Florida Division of Elections.
Smith there’s a rhythm that usually develops during election season. But not this one. He said it isn’t generating much talk at Smitty’s, his wings restaurant on Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
“The candidates are working hard and trying to generate interest,” Smith said. “I’m just not feeling the excitement of the end of an era that we’re about to crown a new congressman.”
His wife and son have already voted by mail. A traditionalist, Smith said he will vote in person at his neighborhood polling place on Election Day, Nov. 2.
Early voting turnout Saturday through 4:30 p.m. Monday
African American Research Library and Cultural Center, Fort Lauderdale, 151.
Miramar Branch Library, 129.
E. Pat Larkins Community Center, Pompano Beach, 80.
Supervisor of Elections Office, Lauderhill, 219.
South Regional Library, Pembroke Pines 17.
Tamarac Branch Library, 192.
Belle Glade Branch Library, 57.
Main Library, West Palm Beach, 63.
Palm Beach State College, Loxahatchee Groves campus, 13.
Elections Office west branch, Belle Glade, 6.
Wells Recreation Center, Riviera Beach, 82.
Broward and Palm Beach county supervisors of elections offices.