Florida Democrats are behind in early voting and behind on ballots

ORLANDO — Republicans have so far outscored Democrats in Florida’s early elections, capitalizing on their main-ballot advantage, an ominous sign for the party’s candidates in their uphill battle to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. November 8.

“Democrats are in trouble in Florida,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

“Historically, Democrats lead in early voting,” he said. “And right now, when you combine in-person and mail-in ballots, registered Democrats trail Republicans by about 30,000 returned ballots. So they should be very interested.”

Republicans usually make a strong showing on Election Day. So Democrats need to build up big numbers in advance, especially since the GOP surpassed Democrats in voter registration last year for the first time.

In this election, the Republicans jumped even further. The Republican Party has 5.26 million registered voters compared to 4.97 million for the Democrats, a number that has dropped below 5 million after the 2020 election.

As of Friday, five days after early voting, 267,111 Republicans had cast ballots in-person in early elections, compared to 149,265 Democrats. Another 82,000 independent and third-party voters also voted early.

Democrats hold the advantage in mail-in ballots, with 726,677 Democrats returning their ballots as of Friday, compared to 635,344 Republicans. Another 333,000 independents and third-party members also voted by mail.

But even those numbers fall short of where Democrats should be, McDonald said.

“Democrats started with an advantage of about 450,000 vote-by-mail applications that were deferred from the 2018 and 2020 elections,” he said. “But Democrats just don’t return their ballots at the same rate as Republicans. … They are wasting this leadership.”

It was during the 2020 election that Florida’s usual partisan voting patterns began to change.

Florida has been a national leader in allowing “no-excuse” mail-in voting without having to prove they will be absent on Election Day or for other reasons, a change that Republicans in Tallahassee spearheaded.

While Republicans voted by mail in greater numbers than Democrats, especially older voters, concerns about the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic led more Democrats to vote by mail.

President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud have led more Republicans to bypass voting by mail and instead cast their ballots in person, either early or on Election Day.

So far this year, Democrats are leading mail-in ballots in heavily Democratic Orange and Osceola counties, but so far have a narrow lead in key Seminole, a previously solid GOP county that voted for President Joe Biden and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew in 2020. Gillum in 2018.

Democrats are also trailing in early voting in Osceola and Seminole counties and have only a slight lead in Orange County. Republicans lead in both categories in Lake County.

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There is still a week of early voting left, McDonald said, and Democrats can still boost their early numbers for statewide candidates like former U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who are running for governor and U.S. Senate, before Election Day. , but also important races for Congress and the Legislature.

“We’re going to start voting for more younger people next week,” he said. “That’s just a typical pattern we’ve seen in past elections. … But if we go into Election Day with registered Democrats behind registered Republicans in early voting, I’m going to be very confident that DeSantis and Rubio will be the winners.

McDonald also warned Democrats of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” if reports of low turnout on their side lead their voters to turn out even more.

“They might just assume, ‘Well, my vote doesn’t matter. So I will not participate,” he said. “…Democrats choosing not to vote at least up to this point are essentially conceding that Republicans will control (Florida’s) government and potentially help them control the U.S. House of Representatives,” he said.

Gregory Koger, a political science professor at the University of Miami, said there is an institutionalized Republican advantage that Democrats are still struggling to overcome.

“Not only the voter registration numbers, but what’s behind it — the better funding and organization of the Florida Republican Party over the last few years,” Koger said.

The way Florida Democrats have broken that cycle, he said, is to do better than expected in the primary race in an effort to show that Florida is still swinging. The same narrow loss suffered by party candidates from 2010 to 2018 would be considered a still-winnable state this time around.

“(Democrat) Beto O’Rourke outperformed expectations in the 2018 Texas Senate race, making Texas a more viable place to run for president in 2020, and now he’s trying again (for governor),” Koger said. “So one of the takeaways from this cycle is to have a good candidate that outperforms expectations.”

Otherwise, he said, “there’s going to be real thinking about what they have to do in the future.”

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Visit orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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