Nearly 4.3 million Floridians have requested mail-in ballots for next week’s primary election, with 1.646 million ballots already received by county elections supervisors, according to the Florida Division of Elections (DOE).
As of Tuesday afternoon, 815,322 Democrats, 584,947 Republicans, 233,623 independents and 12,188 alternate party voters had cast mail-in votes for the Aug. 18 primary, which includes local elections in many counties and cities.
According to DOE, 2.652 million vote-by-mail ballots requested by state residents – 1.226 million Democrat, 794,343 Republican and 600,630 nonaffiliated – have not been returned.
Typically, more mail-in ballots are requested than returned as residents opt to vote in-person early or on Election Day, or simply forego voting.
During the 2016 election, nearly 64,000 more Democrats than Republicans who requested mail-in ballots did not vote at all, a factor that contributed to President Donald Trump winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes by 112,911 votes.
Since 2002, Florida has been one of 27 no-excuse states, where voters can request a mail-in ballot without explaining why they want to do so or being absent from the state.
In 2016, state lawmakers, led by Republicans, unanimously agreed to eliminate absentee voting in state statute with vote-by-mail since Floridians do not need to be absent to vote by mail.
Voting by mail usually accounts for about one-third of ballots cast statewide, according to DOE, but as pandemic fears make voting in person a scary proposition for some, elections supervisors anticipate as many as half of the state’s 13.89 million voters will cast their ballots via the mail in November.
Therefore, the Aug. 18 primary is regarded as a key test for the Nov. 3 general election, when alternate voting opportunities are expected to play a key role. State and local officials closely are monitoring if systems can handle an anticipated influx of mail-in votes, including Florida’s expansive early voting rules.
Florida law allows counties to open early voting 10 days before an election, ending three days before Election Day. Elections supervisors can offer early voting beginning 15 days before and ending two days before the election. Many are doing so.
According to DOE, 226,017 state residents had voted early by Tuesday afternoon, including 122,734 Republicans, 89,474 Democrats and 13,069 independents.
Voting registration for the primaries closed July 20, with 13.891 million Floridians enrolled, including 5.168 million registered Democrats, 4.927 million registered Republicans and 3.622 million independents in the state.
With seven weeks until mail ballots go out for the Nov. 3 election, those figures fall far short of former Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s pledge to re-engage 1 million voters and draw 200,000 new Democrats to the party.
Democrats’ 240,423 lead in registered voters is 5,000 voters less than the advantage they enjoyed over the GOP during the same point in 2018.
Both parties have added about a half-million voters to their rolls since the summer of 2016 and between 90,000 to 100,000 new voters over the past year.
“We won the voter registration war,” Republican Party of Florida Chairman Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said last week.
The voting bloc making the greatest gains is the nonaffiliated cadre, with 700,000 registering since 2016 and 3.622 million now registered without a party affiliation.
Meanwhile, an estimated 4 million eligible Floridians remain unregistered to vote. After next week’s primary, they will have until Oct. 5 to sign up for the Nov. 3 election.
DOE anticipates a greater percentage than usual will do so, noting 77,000 new voters registered in June.