Mail-in ballots might be the real turnout in CD 19 special election

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Although early voting in Florida’s 19th Congressional District began Saturday, early turnout shows more voters prefer the mailbox than the voting booth.

With a relatively firm stream of people arriving at various polling places, a total 409 in-person votes cast on the first day, in a turnout that Collier County election workers describe as somewhere between “skimpy” and “steady.”

However, the real turnout for CD19 could be through the U.S. mail.

By Sunday morning, Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards received 8,078 mail-in ballots. That is about 60 percent of the reported 13,500 total ballots sent out by her office.

In addition to the 409 early votes, there were also two provisional ballots.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington told reporters her office received 35,000 requests for primary mail-in ballots, with 58 percent returned so far, or about 20,150. Harrington added that she hopes for an overall turnout of 40-50 percent. As for in-person voting, Lee County has not yet posted figures.

Off-year elections are notorious for lowered turnout, and an April 22 special election leaves few expecting a high percentage of the total 91,852 registered Republicans to turn out in the overwhelmingly conservative Collier County. The GOP outnumbers both Democrats (with 43,712 registered voters) and No Party Affiliation/others (45,704) combined.

Collier County includes Naples, Golden Gates and Corkscrew.

Nearly 400,000 registered voters reside in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The GOP has an advantage there, but party grip is not as strong as it is with their neighbors to the south.

Lee County has 169,695 registered Republicans, 115,637 Democrats and 114,447 “others” in the region.

On the primary election ballot is State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, currently serving as Majority Leader, former automobile-wheel manufacturer CEO Curt Clawson, former State Rep. Paige Kreegel, and aviation authority Michael Dreikorn. Since Florida is a closed primary state, and voters can only cast ballots for their own party in any given Primary Election.

The winner next week will face Democrat April Freeman, Libertarian Party Ray Netherwood and write-in candidate Timothy Rossano in the June 24 general election.

In a post on her campaign website, Freeman challenged the eventual GOP nominee to a series of debates about “real issues and real ideas.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.