As in Florida and the rest of the nation, Flagler County is seeing a surge of early voting and voting by mail in one of the most unusual–and unpredictable–election in memory. But Flagler would have to experience an even more unusually heavy turnout in the remaining days of the election, especially on Election Day, if the turnout records of the 2000s are to be broken.
As of midday today, 51,601 ballots have been cast in early voting and by mail, or nearly 90 percent of the number of ballots cast in the 2016 election–a threshold that will certainly be crossed by the end of the day. With two days of early voting left, and over 3,000 votes cast each day on average during the early voting period, it is entirely possible that as many ballots will have been cast by Saturday as in the entire 2016 election.
In 2016, 58,331 ballots were cast in Flagler, out of 79,349 registered voters, an overall turnout of 73.51 percent.
Since 2016, the county has added 12,600 registered voters. In actual turnout so far, Flagler’s rate is at 55 percent, or within 16,000 votes of matching the turnout of 2016. Flagler exceeds turnout in Florida by 4 percent. In the region, it’s also beating turnouts in Volusia (47.7 percent), Putnam (41.6), Orange (48.3), Osceola (48.5) and Duval (47.7). But St. Johns is well ahead at 60 percent.
Early voting and voting by mail has been breaking records across Florida, where, as of midday today, 7.4 million Floridians had cast a ballot, or 81 percent of the voter total of 2016. Turnout so far in Florida is at 51 percent.
Some factors or caveats to keep in mind: First, considering the addition of 12,600 voters to Flagler’s rolls since the last presidential election, for turnout this year to exceed that of 2016, at least 67,700 ballots must be cast. Flagler is 76 percent of the way there as of noon today. (See registration numbers here.)
Second, the supervisor’s office will continue to accept mail ballots, by mail and in person, until 7 p.m. on Election Day. So the total between mail and early voting ballots will almost certainly exceed 60,000, surpassing the net total of the 2016 vote and resulting in what’s likely to be in the range of 65 percent overall turnout, give or take a few points, not counting in person voting on Election Day.
Third, and that’s the wild card of this election, in 2016, a year that knew no covid and when neither parties were making a push for or against voting by mail, for or against voting in person, just 19 percent of the electorate in Flagler (15,1000 voters) cast a ballot in person on Election Day, the lowest proportionate total in the county’s history for a general election. With the very heavy voting by mail and the high proportion of early voting, it may be a challenge for voting on Election day to match the proportion of 2016.
But if it did, that would yield an Election day tally of an additional of 17,480 ballots, and a total overall vote of 77,480 ballots, or a turnout of 84 percent. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely?
Put it this way: while Flagler has had a tradition of high turnout, particularly in the previous decade, it would still have to break a new record to reach 84 percent. Flagler beat Florida’s turnout by several points in 2000 (Bush-Gore), 2004 (Bush-Kerry) and 2008 (Obama-McCain) with turnout of 81, 82 and 82 percent in those elections. But turnout fell to 73 percent in 2012. And for all the claims that Trump brought out voters in 2016, Flagler’s turnout remained at 73 percent that year, and Florida’s matched that of 2008. (Florida’s post-war turnout record is 79 percent in the 1968 election, Nixon-Humphrey, which remains the all-time national record, since women and Blacks were no longer barred from polls.)
What the numbers indicate so far in this election is that Flagler will very likely exceed its 2016 turnout. But whether it will match or exceed its turnout from record-setting elections in the previous decade remains open to question.
Analyzing Flagler’s numbers more closely, a few facts stand out: early voting in this election started a bit slower than in 2016 but has since nearly caught up, with now almost identical numbers. After 10 full days of early voting at three locations, the county tallied 21,870 ballots, an average of 2,187 per day, with a Saturday and Sunday in that cycle. In 2016, the first 10 days of early voting totaled 22,869 votes, an average of 2,287–or 100 a day more. There were 13 days of early voting in 2016, as there are this year: early voting ends at 6 p.m. Saturday, but mail balloting continues.
As expected, and mirroring trends in the state and the nation, mail ballots have skewed Democratic in Flagler: Registered Democrats have cast 54.8 percent of all mail ballots received as of this afternoon, while 36.6 percent of Republicans have used mail ballots, a reversal from previous elections, when Republicans were much more likely to go the mail ballot route. This year is different as Donald Trump made repeated and grossly false claims about the unreliability of mail ballots while state officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have–with limited success–attempted to scuttle the ease of dropping mail ballots in drop boxes. The Flagler County government administration played a small role in that scuttling when it decided to hold a major construction project around the supervisor of elections’ office at the same time as the weeks of voting, and refused to suspend construction during early voting.
If Flagler Democrats built a small lead in ballots cast until the day early voting started, Republicans quickly overtook it as early voting got under way. They now hold an overall 46-34 percent advantage over Democrats, with independents and minor parties accounting for 20 percent of the ballots cast. Both Republicans and Democrats are outperforming their proportion of the electorate so far, signaling considerable voter enthusiasm among both. In other words, while Republicans account for 43.6 percent of total registered voters in the county, they account for 46 percent of ballots cast. Democrats account for 30.6 percent of registered voters but 34 percent of ballots cast. It’s independents and minor party voters, who account for 25.8 percent of the electorate, who are unenthused, since they have cast just 20 percent of ballots. That may be fine with candidates of the two parties, who are banking on their bases to win or stay in office.
An important note about your mail ballot, if you have it and decide to vote in person either early or on Election Day: If you have the mail ballot, bring it with you to the polls. Poll workers will cancel it and direct you to cast a regular ballot. If you do not have the mail ballot, they will check if the elections office has received it before allowing you to vote. If they cannot confirm if you returned the mail ballot, but you have not already voted, you can still cast a provisional ballot.