With elections right around the corner, Pam Carpenter answers some frequently asked voting questions
What has been the most effective way of getting voters to the polls?
Having more voting options available has helped to increase voter access to the process. We like to remind voters that voting is as easy as 1-2-3. Any voter may request a ballot and vote by mail, or a voter may vote prior to the election at any one of our three early voting sites during early voting hours, or they may choose to vote at their precinct between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day.
On average, how large (or small) of a margin is there between winning and losing candidates?
There really isn’t a typical margin when it comes to winning an election as it varies depending on the specific set of candidates or the particular race. When an election breaks the normal turnout level, we almost always see that the voters felt strongly about a candidate or issue on the ballot. If the margin of victory is less than one-half of 1 percent, Florida Law requires a machine recount, and if the margin is less than one-fourth of 1 percent, there is an automatic manual recount. As you can see, every vote counts.
What is new about the voting process this year?
The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1355 during the 2011 legislative session. This law changed the duration of early voting from two weeks prior to the election to eight days of early voting beginning 10 days prior to the election. The old law allowed for a total of 96 hours of voting with a limit of eight hours per day on weekdays and eight hours total on the weekends. The new law provides for a minimum of six hours per day, but allows for the early voting sites to be open for 96 hours over an eight-day period. Due to this change, the early voting sites will be open longer hours for the presidential elections.
With the redistricting process completed, Alachua County voters will also see many new offices and candidates on their ballots this fall. Voters are encouraged to be aware of the new districts, and familiarize themselves with the candidates before the August 14 Primary. Prior to redistricting, Alachua County was in U.S. Congressional Districts 3 and 6, State Senate District 14, and State House Districts 10, 11, 22, and 23. After Redistricting, Alachua County is now in U.S. Congressional Districts 3 and 5, State Senate District 7, and State House Districts 10, 20, and 21. But be aware that even if a number stays the same, a district may have changed dramatically.
Has the percentage of voter turnout increased or decreased over the years? Why do you think this is so?
The percentage of voter turnout fluctuates based on the type of election being held as well as the candidates and the issues appearing on the ballot. Historically, here in Alachua County we see approximately a 30 percent turnout for primary elections, a 50 percent turnout for gubernatorial elections, and a 70-80+ percent turnout for presidential general elections. Alachua County had the third highest percentage turnout in the state in November 2008. Municipal elections vary greatly depending on the municipality involved. While historically the percentage figures remain relatively the same, the number of registered voters continues to increase.
How is voting in Alachua County different than other counties in Florida and in the U.S.?
Voting in Florida is administered under Florida Statutes, and the laws are the same throughout the state. While the process is the same, the procedures may differ based on the type of equipment being used in the county. Those of you who vote early know we use equipment that allows for an electronic check-in at our early voting sites. Some counties use this equipment at the polling place on Election Day as well. Some of the larger counties also provide for a ballot-on-demand process.
Elections are run by the states and not the federal government, so the laws and regulations vary from state to state. Some states set a deadline for registration prior to an election, other states allow for Election Day registration. A few states conduct all elections by mail and no polling places are opened. In other states, vote centers are open for any voter to come in and cast their ballot during a multi-day period of time with the final day of voting being Election Day. Primary elections can be closed, as in Florida, where only those registered in the same party as the candidate can vote in partisan elections, or they can be open primaries where all voters may vote for any candidate, or you can declare which party you want to vote for when you go to the poll.
For more information, visit http://elections.alachua.fl.us/