Politics

Number of Votes Cast Is a Record for Florida

By: Michael Peltier News Service of Florida | Posted: November 8, 2012 3:55 AM
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Nearly 8.4 million Florida voters cast ballots in the 2012 general election, a record number that pushed voter turnout over 70 percent and may have changed forever both parties' strategies for getting out the vote.

An unprecedented amount of early voting characterized by long lines, and a Democratic push for absentees brought in more than half the number of ballots cast for the entire election before Election Day.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8,386,164 voters had cast ballots. That's up from 8,351,358 cast in 2008, which until Tuesday held the record for numerical turnout. A handful of counties still had absentee ballots that needed to be counted, with Miami-Dade still awaiting the results of 20,000 votes.

Tuesday's 70.3 percent participation failed to eclipse races in 2008 and 2004, in which 75 percent and 74 percent of registered voters, respectively, cast ballots.

Among the 2012 major trends were the number of ballots cast early. Despite fewer early voting days, more than 2.4 million voters cast ballots at one of 300 early voting sites across the state.

In addition, 2.1 million cast absentee ballots. Taken together, they comprised more than half of all 8.4 million votes.

A Dartmouth University study suggests that black voters were disproportionately affected by the reduction in early voting days, an apparent blow to Democratic candidates. But the shortened days apparently did not deter voters, who stood in line for hours in some areas of the state to cast ballots.

Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said the party benefited from the strong organization brought into the state on behalf of President Barack Obama, whose campaign machine rolled into the state and mobilized thousands of volunteers.

In addition, the campaign brought in full-time organizers to mobilize student and Hispanic voters.

"The changing demographic of Florida, and the long-term way in which I see Florida politics changing over time, was evident," Smith said Wednesday. "And for at least this cycle, we adjusted to it well and we took advantage of it."

Smith said his successor must continue those grassroots, organizational efforts to provide the same sort of ground cover for the upcoming 2014 campaign, a midterm test in which the state will be largely on its own without a presidential race to drive turnout.

Lacking the financial resources of its Republican counterpart, the Democratic Party is going to have to rely on such efforts to improve its performance in statewide and local races.

"When we begin to win the governorship and Cabinet positions, then there's an entire game change in Tallahassee in terms of resource allocation, in terms of energy and focus," Smith said.

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