Flagler County’s voting precincts will be reduced from 23 to 21 as far fewer people are turning out to vote in person on Election day itself, in contrast with sharp spikes in early voting and voting by mail. Early voting sites will increase from three to four, with Flagler Beach getting its own early voting site from here on, according to a plan by Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart.
The Flagler County Commission unanimously approved the plan this morning, with little discussion and no public comment. The plan is now in effect.
Precincts are not representative districts. They’re polling locations, whose significance–or at least whose uses–has diminished in the past decade and a half. Early voting and voting by mail now accounts for at least two-thirds of all balloting at most elections, though finding actual polling locations remains a challenge. (There were 24 polling locations previously, one of them combining two precincts.)
“Overall,” Lenhart said, “our precinct turnout, even if you take 2020 completely out of the equation, it’s still on the decline. You can see over time that voters are choosing to vote prior to election day, they’re choosing to vote early, they’re choosing to vote by mail. On Election Day, precinct turnout is declining, and this is from 2004 to through 2020.”
In actual numbers, while 23,700 voters turned up at precincts on Election day itself in 2004, the number was down to just under 12,000 in 2020, despite a significant increase in population and registered voters.
Early voting alone (that is, voting in person but in the two weeks prior to Election Day, at any of three locations in the county) drew just under 9,000 voters in 2004, the first year it was available. By 2020, the number shot up to 28,609. The coming cycle is a non-presidential general election, comparable to 2018. That year, 23,000 voters went to the pools early.
“Do do I think we’re going to hit the 22,000 that we had in 2018? Absolutely,” Lenhart said. “We’re going to absolutely have 22,000 people vote early this year, no doubt. in 2020 we saw 28,609 people vote early. So that is an enormous early voting turnout increase since it started basically in the 2004 election cycle. So that’s increasing. Also, if you’re concerned about the reduction of precincts, we are opening an early voting site in the city of Flagler Beach. So now they don’t have to cross the bridge. You’re welcome, Flagler Beach people.” It’ll be at the United Methodist Church in Flagler Beach.
Voting by mail has also been shooting up, from 6,000 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2018, and more than double that in 2020. “There’s just so many factors, it’s hard to determine how many people will vote by mail, but you can see the spike and it is increasing,” Lenhart said.
It is not clear to what extent vote-restricting measures adopted by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis will have on the coming election, especially as the bill with the most pernicious restrictions–including a limit of one drop-box for mail ballots–is the subject of a lawsuit. The state has agreed to suspend enacting that law pending the outcome of the federal lawsuit.
Lenhart intends the precinct system to be more logical and easy to use. There were 35 precincts in Flagler County 10 years ago. After the 2010 census, the number was reduced to 23. Now that another census has been completed, the precincts are being redrawn somewhat, both to take account of the latest population alignment and of state and local redistricting.
The numbers right now really don’t mean anything, Lenhart said of the precinct numbers. That will change. Instead of being simple numbers, from 1 to 23, they’ll be three-digit numbers, with the first digit reflecting a geographic location: 1 for Bunnell, 2 for Beverly Beach and Flagler Beach, 4 for unincorporated Flagler County, and 5 for Palm Coast. The numbers will then also correspond with the supervisor’s database. It simplifies the ballot proofing process and groups precincts with more geographical logic.
Precincts 5 and 7, at Rima Ridge and Community Baptist Church, will be combined into one–at the Baptist Church. That will be Precinct 103, with a total number of 3,209 registered voters. Just 592 have voted there on average on Election day.
Precincts 8 and 9, the county airport and the Flagler County Association of Realtors building on State Road 100, will combine into one precinct at the FCAR building, one of the largest facilities for the supervisor. The two precincts add up to just over 8,000 registered voters, of whom only about 1,000 have been voting on Election Day. That will be Precinct 501.
Precincts 15, 16 and 17 are Buddy Taylor Middle School, Wadsworth Elementary and the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. All three will be combined into the large, multi-purpose room at Wadsworth Elementary. That will be Precinct 506. Those precincts have about 8,788 voters, but just 1,744 have turned out on Election day on average, a number that can be accommodated by a single location, Lenhart said. “It’ll be pretty much our room to use for the day,” Lenhart said of the 3,292 square foot room, with access away from bus lines and car riders’ lines.
The first election ahead when voters will see all those changes in place is the August 23 primary.
Only 30 percent of voters turnout in primary elections. “I used to encourage people to vote,” Lenhart said. “Now I kind of shame people into voting because primary elections are so important. And I wish that we would get a higher turnout for primaries. That’s going to be my message going forward, is really showing people why, like our school board and judicial races, nonpartisan races: everybody can vote in those, and sometimes they’re decided by 30 percent of the electorate. So increasing the turnout for a primary would be very important.”