Floridians cast their ballots as early voting begins

Officials ask everyone to study their ballot before voting

ORLANDO, Fla. – With early voting underway Monday in nearly every Central Florida county, voters are being urged to keep a few things in mind before heading off to the polls.

Elections workers say they’re ready and safety is key, especially because they’re expecting a high voter turnout this year.

“We’ll have sanitizer and we’ll do everything we can to protect you,” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, adding there also will be social distancing of six feet, masks and plexi glass shields.

[RESULTS 2020: Voter Guide]

Cowles outlined some tips to help make things easy for anyone casting their ballot.

“The first thing is make a plan, know which (location) you’re going to go to. There are 20 locations around the county,” Cowles said.

The early voting locations can be found on sample ballots, which have been mailed out to registered voters.

Cowles said he encourages everyone to study their ballot before voting. News 6 has sample ballots for each county in Central Florida. You can check them out by clicking or tapping here.

“It’s a long ballot. It’s four pages of voting, so pre-mark your sample ballot and bring it with you,” Cowles said. “There are nine amendments on here, so if you haven’t pre-studied them, you’re going to be there a while.”

The Orange County Supervisor of elections website was unavailable for a short period Monday morning because of a problem with its domain. Cowles said there was no issue with hacking, and it didn’t impact voting.

In the Panhandle, Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux announced that he and an employee had tested positive for the coronavirus. That resulted in the closure of the early voting site at the county’s main office, but four other sites remained open. The Republican-dominated county has approximately 150,000 voters.

While other states have seen wait times of several hours when early voting began, Cowles said he doesn’t anticipate long lines because Orange County is operating with the maximum number of voting locations.

Typically, morning, lunch and afternoon rush are the busiest times at polling locations, so voters are urged to find an alternate time, if possible.

“Come mid-morning, come mid-afternoon if you’re available to come during those times,” Cowles said.

Voters will need to have a photo ID with a signature to cast their ballot. COVID-19 precautions will also be in place at each location.

“Even as the line gets longer, still keep that distance,” Cowles said. “We will keep moving you through as quickly as we can.”

On Sunday, voters were dropping their vote by mail ballots at a drop box in Orange County. Anyone who wants to request one has until Saturday to do so.

Early voting begins in every Central Florida county on Monday except for Sumter County, which begins on Tuesday. By late Monday morning nearly 653,000 people in Florida had voted early.

About 2.5 million mail-in ballots have already been cast, with Democrats returning 1.2 million and Republicans about 758,000 as of Monday morning. Non-affiliated voters and third-party members make up the rest. The number of mail-in votes is already approaching the 2.7 million cast in 2016 when Republicans had a 70,000-vote margin on returns.

Some elections in Florida have been won on the thinnest of margins, becoming the center of intense focus during recounts of ballots — including the 2000 presidential race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The recount drew a chaotic slew of court challenges that ultimately ended with U.S. Supreme Court halting further recounting, deciding the race for Bush.

Elections officials are predicting that between mail-in ballots and early voting, about 70% of the ballots expected will be cast before Election Day. The state allows those ballots to be processed, but the actual count remains secret until after the polls close Nov. 3.

Counties must end early voting by Nov. 1. Mail-in ballots, with few exceptions, must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

About the Authors:

Mark Lehman became a News 6 reporter in July 2014, but he's been a Central Florida journalist and part of the News 6 team for much longer. While most people are fast asleep in their bed, Mark starts his day overnight by searching for news on the streets of Central Florida.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.