Voting began at 7 this morning in Flagler and across the eastern time zone in the final day of the 2020 election, not counting post-election wrangles.
By noon today around 6,000 ballots had been cast in Flagler’s 25 precincts on the way to easily breaking the 2016 turnout total of 73.5 percent. Turnout stood at 72 percent around noon, with seven hours of voting to go.
Just under 61,000 ballots had already been cast, through the mail or in early voting, by the time polls opened this morning, exceeding the 2016 total by more than 2,500 ballots. But Flagler added some 12,000 new registered voters since then. Turnout when Election day voting opened was at 66 percent already. To match 2016’s turnout, Flagler must have a total of 67,560 ballots cast. It was at 66,000 at noon, while averaging 1,200 votes an hour. At the current rate, and with mail ballots still being dropped off, Flagler could end the day with 75,000 ballots cast out of 92,000 eligible voters, for a turnout of 81 percent–close to the records of the 2000 and 2004 elections.
Republicans are outvoting Democrats by a 3-to-1 margin at Flagler’s polls today (3,278 Republican-registered voters to 1,101 Democratic-registered voters as of noon), with independents and others adding another 1,500 ballots. Republicans were expected to outvote Democrats at polls today across the country, after Democrats made a push for mail-in ballots. The larger Republican share is building on a clear advantage already in place since early voting, with Republicans so far accounting for 47 percent of all ballots cast, Democrats at 32 percent, and independents and others at 21 percent. Republicans are outperforming their registration share by 4 percentage points, Democrats are outperforming it by just 1 percent, so in Flagler the enthusiasm, not just the numbers, tilts in Republicans’ favor.
There are relatively few local elections on the ballot, at least compared to the primary, when school board races were being decided, or in previous elections, when some of the constitutional offices were more competitive. This year, all but one of the constitutional officers were re-elected without opposition–Lenhart, Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston and Property Appraiser Jay Gardner. The Democratic Party opted to throw a sacrificial lamb in Sheriff Rick Staly’s way in a repeat of the 2016 general election, with Larry Jones again opposing him, but even Democrats privately say it’s a lost cause. Staly’s popularity is unparalleled for a sheriff in at least a quarter of a century. The question this evening isn’t whether he will be reelected, but by what margin. The sheriff’s confidence was evident Monday night when his campaign issued release entitled in bold, “Election Night Contact & Celebration Information.” He is holding his election night event at Beachfront grille in Flagler Beach.
The County Commission still has two seats to decide tonight, including the most civil race of the season–between Andy Dance, who will be stepping down from the School Board, and Corinne Hermle, who this week tried to make the case against an “all-male Flagler County Commission.” The commission has been all male, all white, all Republican for the past four years, making it by far the least diverse elected body in the county. Its other race tonight pits incumbent Donald O’Brien against two other Republicans running under the guise of independents–Denise Calderwood and Paul Anderson, both perennial candidates looking for their first win.
The more acrimonious local races tonight are for the Palm Coast City Council, once the dullest and most predictable of bodies. Not this year, with incumbent Mayor Milissa Holland and incumbent Nick Klufas both defending seats, Holland against Alan Lowe, the self-styled inventor, Klufas against Cornelia Manfre, the Realtor. Four of the council’s five seats are being contested simultaneously for the first time in the city’s history, with a trio of insurgents–Lowe, Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa–gunning for a small revolution on the council. The trio manned campaign posts at the public library with relentless, sack-of-Rome type zeal for 13 days, and may well have a shot at upending the council’s majority, itself barely four years old.
The busiest race in the bunch is the special election for the seat Jack Howell resigned last summer. It is a contest between Barbosa, Bob Coffman, David Alfin and Dennis McDonald. There will be no runoff in this race: whoever has a plurality of votes wins.
Curiously this year, one of the more interesting set of races has turned out to be one of the least-watched: the three races for East Flagler Mosquito Control, which for the past eight years has been controlled by the old guard of Jules Kwiatkowski–one of the last Democrats standing in any local elected office–and Barbara Sgroi, whose combined age adds up to 168 years. The third seat has been vacant since the former physician, Florence Fruehan, had to relinquish it after being convicted a felon for groping an older woman.
The Fruehan seat has drawn Democrat Ralph Lightfoot and Republican Martin Brabham. Sgroi faces Mike Martin, and Kwiatkowski faces Perry Mitrano, the former solid waste and water utility director in Bunnell government.
The final days of the campaign locally mirrored some of the same featured some of the same eruptions of enthusiasm, tensions and bickering seen across the land, but sized for Flagler.
On Saturday, the last day of early voting, Trump supporters staged an enormous car and truck-caravan style rally that filled the Flagler County courthouse parking lot around midday and snarled traffic there for a while.
“I was not there myself, but our trained poll observers reported that voters could not get to the parking lot set aside for them in order to vote,” Mike Cocchiola, who heads the local Democratic Party, wrote county commissioners. “Access to the voting site was blocked for at least an hour if not more. I spoke to a voter at the library who reported that she and others gave up and were forced to seek alternative voting locations. Some may have given up entirely out of fear. I do not know who authorized this rally or why on the last day of early voting. But at this point I consider this to be a clear indication of voter intimidation and suppression.” Cocchiola’s email elicited a
Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart in an email said, “I saw one complaint on Facebook and received one by email. I was at the office when the rally began, voters were still arriving.” By day’s end, the supervisor’s site had logged its highest single-day turnout of the 13-day early voting period, its 806 ballots cast besting the total the day before by nine ballots. In comparison, the total at the public library in Palm Coast was the lowest of the 13 days, and the third lowest at the Palm Coast Community Center.
There’s been continuing internecine battles within two factions of the Republican Party, one of them reflecting the more Trump-supporting insurgents, the other reflecting an older guard. The battle is also reflected in the divide between the council trio mentioned above and the incumbents in those races–and between Bob Updegrave, a party stalwart who was greatly responsible for building Republican registrations since 2008, and Jearlyn Dennie, the relatively new head of the Republican Executive Committee. The tensions erupted publicly in the last few days, with Updegrave accusing Dennie and her volunteers or candidates of distributing potentially fraudulent Republican slate cards.
“You and members of your party leadership (State Committeewoman Sharon Demers) have allowed hundreds, perhaps thousands of these cards to fall into the hands of those unscrupulous candidates (Alan Lowe and Victor Barbosa and their apparent supporters) who have abused them by marking-in their own ballot bullets and handing out to unsuspecting Voters clearly appearing to show themselves as Republican-endorsed,” Updegrave wrote Dennie. “The cards are defective, incomplete, ripe for fraud and are an embarrassment to sensible ethical Republican candidates.” Dennie was incensed that a reporter would so much as ask her about Updegrave’s statement, then provided a calmer statement: “Anybody can be a critic, but a special few have pitched in to make the Flagler REC impactful. We are proud of our work product and the opportunities that we have given all of our candidates. Everything else is just static.”
Demers was more direct, calling Updegrave “just an angry, disgruntled member that has fallen out of favor.”
“I saw no one alter the slate card, the little mailer that we did,” Demers said. “I think this is just his way to try to make Jerlyn look bad, I think she’s done an excellent job, she’s raised a ton of money, because she has more imagination than the Updegraves have.”
And finally, as in every election, there are those reports of campaign sign vandalism, though surprisingly this year, those reports were rare–at least in so far as being documented by the sheriff’s office. On Monday, the office reported the arrest of a 42-year-old woman, Tonya McRae, on a misdemeanor charge of uprooting campaign signs. She told a deputy she was doing so because she was “tired of the lies.” She had targeted Trump-Pence signs but hadn’t gotten very far before her arrest.
But even the sheriff acknowledged the relative calm of the season, vandalism-wise. “Emotions are high this election season but it is almost over,” he said on Monday. “Overall, the community has done a good job being respectful of the beliefs and opinions of others. Please continue to do so. We have had sporadic reports of vandalism and theft of political signs by all parties. Remember that it is illegal to damage or steal campaign signs in the same way that it is illegal to damage or steal someone else’s property. The best way to show your opinion is by voting tomorrow, not destroying property.”
Tomorrow is here.