(The Center Square) – Nearly 7 million Floridians – 48% of the state’s 14.44 million registered voters – had cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election by Wednesday morning, already eclipsing the 6.6 million people who voted before Election Day in 2016.
Despite the massive mail-in ballots and early voting turnout, county elections supervisors statewide have reported no issues at polling sites or in vote processing.
National surveys indicate 70% of Americans are anxious about poll security and potential cyber interference in the election.
Voting rights groups, citing the need for transparency amid that heightened anxiety, are applauding the Duval County Canvassing Board’s decision to livestream the vote count after polls close on Election Day.
All Voting is Local Florida Director Brad Ashwell argued the board’s previous refusal to livestream the count because of voter privacy concerns was bogus and violated Florida’s open government laws.
“It does nothing to instill confidence in our officials who are sworn to uphold voters’ rights,” Ashwell said. “We really feel strongly that this board should be transparent in how the ballots are handled, how the ballots are marked and interpreted and the process they’re using for signature verification.”
Ashwell and others criticized the board for removing early voting sites from Edward Waters College, in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and from the University of North Florida, calling it “voter suppression."
Duval County Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan “has really risen to our attention as one of the bad actors in the state, and it’s unfortunate,” Ashwell said.
The discord underscores the importance of Duval County, which is regarded as the “biggest swing county in the biggest swing state.”
Duval County, mostly the city of Jacksonville, last voted for a Democratic president in 1976. Trump, however, won the county by only 1.5% in 2016, substantially narrower margins than GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain garnered in previous presidential elections.
Citing a depressed turnout by the county’s Black community in 2016 and distress over the prospects of Trump being re-elected, state and national Democratic groups have been pouring resources into Duval County since 2017 because they believe the GOP stronghold can be flipped blue.
Increased Democrat turnout materialized in 2018, when, for the first time 30 years, Democrats carried Duval County in state legislative campaigns and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum outpolled Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ultimately won the state by about 30,000 votes.
Since the 2018 elections, Democrats have increased their registration rolls in Duval County and now hold a 6% advantage over Republicans in the county.
Duval County’s status as a key county was evident in the expansive attorney and media presence Tuesday at its county canvassing board meeting.
The board ruled last week observers would not be allowed to object to its decisions, the public couldn't photograph or videotape, nor would it livestream, its meetings, sparking widespread criticism.
In partially reversing that decision Tuesday to livestream the vote count, the board retained prohibitions on taking photographs, shooting videos or lodging objections to rulings.
Florida law, however, allows “non-disruptive photography” and video recording of public meetings, which include canvassing board vote counting and challenges processes.
That apparent disparity, some advocates said, is no accident.
"The risk, really, is that this is the beginning of Florida delaying election results," Florida First Amendment Foundation President Pamela Marsh warned. "If this has to go to court, get a court decision, go back, adopt better rules, go through all those ballots they’ve already gone through, we’re talking already delaying election results and Florida again causing anxiety about who’s been elected president."