Just 52 percent of Flagler County’s registered voters went to the polls Tuesday. That’s lower by far than any recorded tally for a mid-term election in the county going back to 1998, the earliest year for which the Supervisor of Elections has numbers. The low turnout is similar to the primary turn-out, which also was the lowest in at least 16 years.
Based on trends from previous years, and a 66 percent turnout across Florida in the 1994 mid-terms, it’s unlikely that turnout that year in Flagler was lower than it was this year. Before 1994, turnout statewide in Florida was at 55 percent or above except for 1974, when it fell to 50 percent. That suggests that yesterday’s turnout was likely the lowest in at least 36 years.
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That’s a turn-around for Flagler voters, who have tended to be at or near the top of state tables in turn-out, especially in general elections, bucking a lazier statewide trend in the past decade or so. In the 2006 mid-terms, for example, just 47 percent of registered Floridians went to the polls. In Flagler, turn-out was 60 percent. In the 2002 mid-terms, 55 percent of registered Floridians voted. In Flagler, the rate was an impressive 68 percent–better than the nation’s turnout in 50 years of presidential elections.
In presidential elections, Flagler County has registered an 82 percent turnout every time since 2000, well above the statewide averages in those elections.
There are no scientifically based metrics that would determine why voters are getting lazier locally. The only major change of note is in the Supervisor of Elections’ office itself, which was headed by Peggy Border for nearly 18 years until 2008, when she supervised the last, and record-setting, election. (More Americans, Floridians and Flagler voters cast ballots in that election than in any previous one.) The office has since been led by Kimberle Weeks. Part of the supervisor’s job is outreach and voter education, stoking interest in voting.
Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, Weeks took criticism from two on-air anchors on WNZF–David Ayres, the station’s general manager and host of the daily Open Lines show, and Patrick Kelly, who hosted the station’s coverage on election night–who were beguiled by the way numbers were presented electronically from the supervisor’s office. A point of contention: a set of numbers that were misinterpreted as reflecting votes on the tax-and-build referendum put forward, then withdrawn, by Enterprise Flagler, the county’s public-private economic development partnership. That referendum appeared on the ballot because it was too late to take it off. But it didn’t count.
Weeks said Wednesday afternoon that the voting machines tallied those votes but the reports were programmed in such a way as to not generate the tally.
“Last night during the election there was some misconception based on the information given out that they actually had tallied the economic development referendum,” Ayers said, “and it would have passed, based on the information given out, when in fact that wasn’t the case, it was different numbers applied to that and therefore we were saying, wow, what do we know?”
Kelly, speaking on the air this morning, said: “So what numbers are they–that’s my question. If those aren’t the numbers from the people who filled in their ballots for that, then what numbers are they? I think the real story is not that we had a misconception. The story is, can we even trust the numbers that are coming out of the supervisor’s office? Because if those weren’t the numbers, then what were they? And why weren’t those numbers on the sheet?”
The numbers showed a 74 percent approval for what was termed “Amend Ref” on the tally sheet posted on the supervisor office’s website. That result appeared directly above the school tax referendum (which was also approved), in the same order in which the Enterprise Flagler referendum and the school tax referendum appeared on the ballot.
In fact, the 74 percent approval was not for the Enterprise Flagler tax, but for a non-binding statewide advisory referendum on balancing the federal budget: 74 percent of Floridians want to amend the U.S. Constitution to force the federal government to maintain a balanced budget.
Every Florida constitutional amendment on the ballot was referred to clearly enough as “Amend No. 6,” “Amend No. 8,” and so on. That advisory referendum was not, leading to the confusion on election night.
Weeks defended the way the results were presented, saying the mis-perception was not of her creation. “The report was printed and they interpreted the report in that fashion, if that’s how it was reported,” Weeks said.
The results for the economic development proposal are not accessible, Weeks said, since the machines were not programmed to generate them.
Weeks also said that while some tallying was delayed because voters were still in line wanting to vote at several precincts at 7 p.m. (and therefore had to be allowed to vote even after 7 p.m.), the evening unfolded without trouble. The final report was posted at the website at around 8:30 p.m.
“There were no issues,” Weeks said, “and actually we got compliments last night from people who’d been here for many elections, they said they couldn’t believe how smooth it went. They were very impressed.”