ORLANDO, Fla. – Voter turnout so far is low in Central Florida — far lower than in previous years — and elections officials are worried people are being told to stay away until Election Day.
Five county supervisors of elections — Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties — came together Tuesday to implore people to get out and vote now at early voting locations, rather than wait until next Tuesday.
They are also telling voters who have vote-by-mail ballots to get those ballots in as soon as possible.
“Our turnout percentages are very low, and we want to see folks vote,” said Chris Anderson, Seminole County supervisor of elections. “We don’t want them to do what I call ‘last chance voting,’ which is to vote on Election Day.”
Anderson reported that overall voter turnout was at 19%, with only 8% of voters voting early.
“That’s very, very low,” Anderson said.
The supervisors are concerned the misinformation — “a long word for lie,” as Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays said — people are hearing has convinced them that early voting is not safe, and neither is voting by mail.
“The confidence of voters is being grossly undermined by these individuals and the organizations who are out there spreading all these lies,” Hays said. “And it’s doing a disservice to the voters and our country.”
Among the misinformation the supervisors have heard:
- Early voting and voting-by-mail is not secure compared to Election Day voting.
- You can hold your vote-by-mail ballot to Election Day and turn it in.
- Vote-by-mail ballots are only counted if the election is close.
“I have heard a lot of people out there in groups, special interest groups, think that Election Day is the only day to vote,” Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis said. “And they’re really trying to push that now, to stop the vote-by-mail, to stop the early voting, and to only have it on Election Day.”
“It’s critically important, folks, please do not listen to the noise that’s out there on social media,” Hays said. “Use your local supervisor’s office as your trusted source of information. The local supervisors of elections know what’s going on in their counties and we love answering questions with truth. That’s what you as voters deserve.”
Lake County is reporting 20% voter turnout so far, with almost equal numbers for early and vote-by-mail voting.
Anderson said anyone saying that the processing of ballots on Election Day is different from the process for voting by mail or early voting is wrong.
“For the groups out there saying there are some differences, there is no difference,” Anderson said. “Your ballot is secure regardless of the method you decide to vote.”
Anderson said there were no wait times at Seminole County’s early voting locations. That may not be the case on Election Day, especially if more people show up.
Mary Jane Arrington, the supervisor of elections in Osceola County, said that usually early voting is so popular that there are as many early voters as there are Election Day voters.
That is not the case this year — voter turnout is 17% so far, with early voting numbers half of what the county saw in 2018. Arrington said that was very concerning.
“We’re right at about 2,000 a day and in ‘18 we were over 4,000 a day,” Arrington said.
“I’m concerned that people are going to stay home,” Arrington said. “I am really concerned this is going to be one of the lowest turnouts we’ve seen in modern history.”
The supervisors also said some voters are hearing that they should hold onto their vote-by-mail ballot and then turn it in on Election Day at their precinct.
What these voters don’t seem to know is that you cannot drop off a vote-by-mail ballot and then walk out of a polling place thinking you’ve turned in your vote. Not on Election Day.
“You can surrender it on Election Day and we’ll give you a new ballot, however you can’t turn it in at an election precinct,” Anderson said. “Because your ballot won’t make it back to headquarters at our offices by 7 p.m.”
“Surrendering your ballot” means the vote-by-mail ballot is canceled, and the voter now has to wait in line and fill out a new ballot and submit that. That’s required by Florida law.
“The misconception that you should hold your vote-by-mail ballot and turn it in on Election Day is a recipe for disaster,” Hays said.
This becomes an even bigger issue, according to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, if you are also planning to drop off a spouse’s ballot or another family member’s ballot, because you can’t do that on Elections Day at a polling place.
“When they get to the polls, they can only surrender their ballot and get a regular ballot to vote in person, and they’re gonna have to bring those ballots into the supervisor of elections office,” Cowles said.
Cowles also said that election workers do not go out into the community to collect vote-by-mail ballots. Ballots should only be entrusted to a family member or friend to be turned in if you cannot do it yourself.
Orange County’s overall turnout so far is 17%. Early voting this election is almost 23,000 votes behind the votes at this point in 2018.
The supervisors also want to reiterate that, contrary to the rumors online, vote-by-mail and early voting ballots are counted in all elections.
“The first results that you see on election night are vote-by-mail and your early voting numbers,” Lewis said. “So for those that think they don’t count unless we need them they are so not true, they are the first ones.”
Volusia County is looking at 23% overall voter turnout so far. However, Lewis said that in 2018 they had an average of 7,000 voters a day at early voting sites. This election her office is barely seeing around 4,000 early voters a day.
Rumors may not be the only thing stopping voters from going out to the polls. A drop in enthusiasm for voting could also be a problem, the supervisors said.
“When you compare 2018 and 2022, you’ve got to compare the ballot. Candidates and issues are the only things that will motivate a voter to come participate,” Cowles said.
Anderson said voters may also be exhausted by the divisiveness in politics, and they have decided not to take part in the election this year.
“If you want your beliefs and principles to show up in these government institutions, you must vote,” Anderson said. “There’s no other way.”
“We don’t care who you vote for, we don’t care what party you’re registered as, what color your skin is, what nationality you are, if you’re eligible to vote we want you to vote, that’s why we’re here,” Lewis said.
Check out the News 6 Voter Guide to find information you need in order to vote. Find early voting dates and times and links to locations below:
- Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 6, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 6, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 6, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 26 through Nov. 5, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 5, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 27 through Nov. 5, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
- Primary Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 5, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 24 through Nov. 5, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 25 through Nov. 5, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
- Early Voting – Oct. 24-Nov. 5, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations
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