Voters respond to fiercely fought South Florida congressional race with meager turnout

South Florida is about to send a new member of Congress to Washington, D.C, and voters are responding by … not voting.

By the time in-person early voting ended Sunday, total turnout for early voting and vote-by-mail in the Democratic primary was 11.3%.

“The candidates are more excited than the voters are,” said Mitch Ceasar, former longtime chairman of the Broward Democratic Party. “This is symptomatic of special elections. Turnouts are always low.”

For major elections, voting before Election Day has become increasingly popular among Florida voters in the past 20 years. Mail voting exploded in popularity in 2020 as people opted to stay away from polling places because of the coronavirus pandemic.

If there is any surprise about the special congressional election so far, Ceasar said, it’s that turnout has reached the double digits.

Neighborhood polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Unlike early voting, which allows people to go to any early voting center in a county, people must vote in their assigned polling place on Tuesday.

Though it’s too late for people to return ballots by mail, they can be returned to elections offices by 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Postmarks don’t count.

The ultra-low turnout, combined with a fiercely competitive race among the top tier of candidates, means the next member of Congress could be determined by a few hundred votes — or less. Florida eliminated runoff primaries in 2002, so the candidate who wins the greatest number of votes wins.

The result: in a district with 283,000 registered voters , the next member of Congress could be chosen by 7,500 voters.

Ceasar said the winning candidate will be the one who can turn out their base. “The multiple front-runners each have their own constituencies,” he said.

For example, if a candidate with a base in the Caribbean community gets a strong turnout, that could swing the election.

The 20th District, stretching from Miramar in southwest Broward to Riviera Beach in northeastern Palm Beach County, includes most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in the two counties.

Turnout through Sunday among Palm Beach County Democrats was 11.7%, slightly ahead of the 11.2% in Broward. About three-quarters of the district’s registered voters live in Broward County.

About one in eight 20th District registered voters are Republicans, and they’re showing even less interest in their two-candidate primary than the Democrats.

Republican mail-ballot and early-voting turnout through Sunday was 7.2%. As with the Democratic primary, it was higher in Palm Beach County — 8.4% — compared to 6.3% in Palm Beach County.

20th District turnout

Broward County

Registered Democrats: 208,930.

Mail ballots through Sunday: 18,716.

Early voting through last day: 4,736.

Registered Republicans: 34,769.

Mail ballots through Sunday: 1,996.

Early voting through last day: 190.

Palm Beach County

Registered Democrats: 73,733

Mail ballots through Sunday: 7,622.

Early voting through last day: 974.

Registered Republicans: 23,784.

Mail ballots through Sunday: 1,807.

Early voting through last day: 193.

Source: Florida Division of Elections.

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