With more than half a million mail-in ballots already cast for Florida’s Aug. 28 primaries and in-person early voting beginning Monday, the notion of a single “Election Day” is becoming obsolete in the Sunshine State.
“I no longer refer to ‘Election Day,’” said longtime Democratic consultant Eric Johnson. “Florida has election month.”
If Florida’s last two election years are any guide, most people who vote in the upcoming primaries will do so before the official Aug. 28 election day, either by mailing in their ballots or casting them at early voting sites.
Elections offices began sending mail-in ballots to voters last month, and as of Friday morning more than 500,000 Florida voters had already turned them in.
In-person early voting is available Monday through through Aug. 26.
Palm Beach County will have 15 sites open for early voting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. While a voter on Election Day must report to his or her precinct to cast a ballot, the county’s early voting sites are open to any voter registered in Palm Beach County.
For the 2016 presidential election, more than two-thirds of the 9.6 million ballots tallied in Florida were cast before the Nov. 8, 2016 Election Day. That includes 2.7 million vote-by-mail ballots and nearly 3.9 million ballots cast at early voting sites.
In the August 2016 primaries, 62 percent of ballots were cast before Election Day.
In 2014, the last midterm election year, 58 percent of primary ballots and 53 percent of general election ballots were cast before Election Day in Florida.
In Palm Beach County, the percentage of voters casting mail or early ballots has increased steadily in every primary and general election since 2010. In 2010, 29 percent of county voters cast ballots before primary Election Day and 32 percent voted by mail or at early voting sites before the general election.
The 2016 general election marked the first time a majority of Palm Beach County voters — 58.5 percent — cast their ballots before Election Day.
Changing the way candidates run
The trend toward earlier voting has changed the way candidates run for office and the way voters experience campaigns.
“It requires campaigns to start communicating with voters much earlier than they did before. It has driven up the costs of campaigns significantly,” said longtime West Palm Beach-based political consultant Richard Giorgio. “So while it’s a greater convenience for voters, it’s made the campaign process more difficult and expensive.”
Earlier “communicating” means negative TV ads and mailers get stretched out over a longer period of time, Giorgio noted, “which is why I think people feel that campaigns seem to have gotten nastier over the years. I think it’s really just a reaction to the fact that campaigns have to start earlier.”
Johnson says he makes sure to explain Florida’s expanded voting schedule whenever he works with out-of-state consultants.
“The first thing I always tell them is (general) Election Day is Oct. 1. In the primary it’s Aug. 1,” Johnson said. “If you’re not starting then, you’re too late.”
Early voting in Palm Beach County
- 15 sites will be open for early voting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day until Election Day, Aug. 28.
- All early voting sites are open to any voter registered in Palm Beach County. This differs from Election Day, when voters must report to his or her precinct to cast a ballot.