Floridians braved the rain and fears of COVID-19 to head to the polls in record numbers Monday on the first day of early voting, with slightly more Democrats casting ballots in person than Republicans.
A total of about 366,000 people voted: about 154,000 Democrats, 153,700 Republicans and 55,000 unaffiliated voters, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections.
In the past, Democrats have generally had an edge in early voting. This year, so far, they’ve built up a lead of 482,000 votes, including mail ballots. But Republicans are expected to vote heavily in person, in part because of President Donald Trump’s months of criticism of the mail voting process. Slightly more Democrats are registered to vote in Florida than Republicans, but Republicans narrowed the gap this year to just 134,000.
Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who led Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign and is CEO of the pro-Biden Unite Our Country Super PAC, said Monday that several days of early voting will need to pass before anyone can analyze trends or make sense of the turnout.
“The biggest thing about 2020 is there’s no model for it,” he said. “There’s no history we can look back at.”
He added that Monday’s big showing statewide was largely expected.
In Miami-Dade County, the largest county in Florida, over 43,000 people cast ballots Monday, surpassing the 35,000 from the first day of early voting in 2016. That included 19,237 Democrats, 15,278 Republicans, 8,439 with no party affiliation, and 433 registered with other parties.
Democrats represented 44.3% of the day’s early votes in Miami-Dade, while Republicans made up 35.2%. Independents made up 19.5%.
In 2016, Democrats in the county outvoted Republicans during the 14 days of early voting, 219,000 to 125,000, or 45.9% to 26.3%. Overall in that election, Democrats edged Republicans in Miami-Dade, 43.9% to 29.2%. Trump went on to lose Miami-Dade County by 290,000 votes but win the state.
This year in Broward County, the most Democratic-leaning county in the state, a total of 16,847 Democrats and 6,521 Republicans cast early ballots Monday, with 4,463 independents. Across the four counties in South Florida — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe — 44,843 Democrats, 28,598 Republicans and 16,229 independents voted early Monday.
Schale said it’s beginning to look like the number of ballots cast this fall will approach 11 million in Florida, far more than the 9.4 million in 2016. But he also said it’s difficult to predict how many people will vote and in which manner, because the pandemic has turned everything upside down.
He said he thinks one thing is clear: “Where we’re at right now is a very, very tight and competitive election.”
The question of how many ballots will be rejected for signatures that don’t match or for other reasons will also be a factor in the election. Josh Mendelsohn, the CEO of Hawkfish, a Democratic tech firm founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, said rates for rejected mail ballots have so far been “relatively consistent with the Florida norm”
As of Monday morning, he said, there were about half a percent of ballots that were rejected. A total of 4,390 Democrats had failed to sign their ballots properly, he said, as had 2,172 Republicans.
“The expectation and hope is that parties are reaching out to folks … letting people know they do in fact have the ability to cure and remedy areas in their ballots,” Mendelsohn said.
Monday was also the first day for voters to drop off their mail ballots at early voting centers. Over 27,000 people did so in Miami-Dade, more than the 19,000 that utilized the boxes over the entire 14 days of the August primary.
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