With 19 days to go before the Nov. 3 election, Flagler County voters have cast more than 16,500 ballots by mail, already shattering the 2016 total in mailed-in ballots by 3,000. The count is going up hourly.
The surge in voting by mail in Flagler reflects an ongoing surge across the country, where, as of early this afternoon today (Thursday), 17.5 million people had already voted. That’s 12.7 percent of the total turnout of the 2016 election. The number is climbing by the millions daily, and is set to accelerate as more states open polling to early voting, including Florida: early voting begins in Flagler Monday morning. Starting this weekend and into next week, early voting will open in about 10 more states.
In Flagler and Florida as across the nation, Democrats have built a strong advantage over Republicans, at least according to counts in states that tabulate mail ballots by party. But Republicans are expected to have a strong showing in early voting and on Election Day.
Of 16,500 ballots received by the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections as of 1:30 Thursday afternoon, 7,842, or nearly 48 percent, were cast by Democrats, compared to 5,569, or 34 percent, by Republicans. Independents and others cast 3,098 ballots. Turnout in Flagler County is at 18 percent so far.
In Florida by this afternoon more than 2 million people had already voted–1 million of them Democrats, 623,400 Republican and 401,000 independents according to University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald’s Elections Project website.
In Flagler, a total of 43 percent have returned ballots so far, out of 37,000 requested, the 23rd highest rate in the state, out of 67 counties.
In 2016, mail ballots totaled 13,423 (with just 6.097 received by the time the canvassing board counted them on Oct. 26, 2016), early voting totaled 29,696, and in-person voting totaled 15,191. In 2012, some 10,500 people voted by mail.
Inexplicably–if not intentionally, at least in appearance–the county administration of Jerry Cameron (an arch-conservative working for an equally conservative county commission), launched work crews into a construction project around the Government Services Building in Bunnell, coinciding with the election season’s busiest days for the elections office. Construction is blocking the road accessing the Supervisor of Elections’ office and its secure drop box for mail ballots, forcing detours for access, and upsetting Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart. Lenhart said she got the county to commit to suspending construction and reopen the roads when early voting begins. (Later this afternoon Lenhart said it turned out that Cameron had reversed himself: he would not stop construction.)
The Flagler County Canvassing Board on Wednesday spent all day tabulating the first batch of mailed-in ballots, with four more meetings of the board scheduled between next Tuesday and Oct. 30 to tabulate more, and two meetings scheduled on Nov. 3, Election Day. Wednesday’s meeting drew a few observers, but most “got bored and left,” Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart said as canvassing is laborious but uneventful work, and it did not involve the handling of provisional ballots. The board consists of Lenhart, County Judge Andrea Totten (sitting in today for County Judge Melissa Distler, who chairs the board) and County Commissioner Greg Hansen, with Commissioner Charlie Ericksen sitting in as an alternate. All four are registered Republicans.
So far in mail voting the heaviest voting has come in from the Hammock on the barrier island (1,331 ballots), the Woodlands and Palm Harbor (1,108), the F Section (942), the W Section (1,025 north of Pine Lakes Parkway, 985 south of Pine Lakes), the E Section and Town center (887), and Flagler Beach (843). Grand Haven and the area around Old Kings Elementary, customarily the precincts with the highest turnout in the county (they topped 80 percent in 2016), are below 800 votes so far.