Florida will be one of the most-watched states in this most-watched presidential election. But this time, we don’t expect Florida to be last in reporting results. This time, we expect that distinction to go to the swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which cannot begin processing their mail-in ballots until Election Day. Florida, by contrast, has been processing mail-in ballots for three weeks, though they won’t be tallied until the polls close at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. in the western Panhandle.
Besides the presidential race, here are a number of other elections and voting issues that the Sun Sentinel editorial board will be watching:
Turnout: Turnout will decide whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden wins Florida. If Broward breaks its 1992 turnout record of 82.5%, the president’s chances of a second Florida victory are doomed. A so-so Broward turnout — below 75% — will help Trump. Going into Election Day, 64% of Broward voters had voted early or by mail. Democratic strategist Steve Schale says Broward is “cooking with propane.” Strong, in other words. We’ll be watching the strength of Broward’s Black vote and youth vote, both of which underperformed for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Miami-Dade: With 1.6 million voters, Florida’s largest county is the state’s biggest prize and is certain to favor Biden. But with a growing number of younger Cubans favoring Trump, closing the gap in this blue-leaning county is critical for the president.
Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade by 34 points, yet still lost the state. Democrats worry about an October poll that showed Biden ahead by just 20 points in Dade, with ho-hum turnout going into Election Day: 56% percent of 634,000 registered Democrats compared to 63% of 428,000 registered Republicans. (About 47% of 474,000 voters registered as No Party Affiliation also have voted.)
Dade’s importance is why Barack Obama has made two appearances, Trump held a Monday midnight rally in Opa-locka and Kamala Harris made a second visit.
Miami-Dade voters also will elect a new mayor, the second-most powerful executive office in the state after governor. If front-runner Daniella Levine Cava wins, she will be the county’s first non-Hispanic mayor in 24 years.
Precinct problems: More than 1 million Floridians are expected to vote in person on Tuesday, with about a third of them in South Florida. With emotions running high, the pandemic getting worse and the eyes of the nation on Florida as usual, the possibility of trouble at the polls can’t be overlooked. The U.S. Department of Justice says it will be monitoring voting in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.
Because so many people have already voted, Broward’s elections supervisor expects only about 120,000 voters on Tuesday. In the event of disturbances, he’s armed precinct captains with affidavits to give law enforcement officers. So far, Broward has only had isolated cases of mask-less voters, obnoxious bullhorns and petty harassment.
Rejected ballots: The pandemic produced an historic surge in mail-in ballots and that means more rejected mail ballots. Despite enormous media attention on ballot signatures, too many voters still get it wrong. A Sunday morning update said 182 Broward voters hadn’t signed their ballots, 40 had a different signature, 54 were signed by someone else and 36 had moved away. Voters have until 5 p.m. Thursday, two days after the election, to cure defects.
Unreturned ballots: Statewide, 1.4 million mail-in ballots had still not been returned by Monday, and more are held by Democrats (42%) than Republicans (31%). That spells trouble for Democrats. For weeks, both sides have been texting laggards. But on Monday, 73,000 Broward Democrats had still not returned their mail ballots (21.5%). If Trump wins another close one in Florida, those forgotten votes will loom large.
Ballots can no longer be turned in at voting sites, by the way. They must now be turned in at an elections office (Broward has two, Palm Beach five.) Anyone in line at one of these offices by 7 p.m. will be allowed to drop off their ballot.
Postal Service: Broward’s elections supervisor says speed bumps have been eliminated between the post office and the elections office, but will all ballots be delivered by 7 p.m.? Or as we saw in Miami-Dade over the weekend, will more unattended ballots be found down the road?
NPA voters: The nearly 4 million Florida voters who reject both major parties will be the difference-makers again this year. A clue to how NPAs will vote for president will be in Osceola County, home of Disney World, where 34 percent of voters are unaffiliated, the highest of any county. NPAs are most likely to be Hispanic and are harder to motivate. They make up 26 percent of the Florida electorate, yet account for 21 percent of all ballots cast so far.
Frankel vs. Loomer: Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach is a favorite to win, but first she must shut down the weirdest sideshow in local politics. That’s Republican Laura Loomer, a far-right agitator whose hate speech toward Muslims and others got her banned on social media. This is the district where President Trump votes. He told reporters he voted for Loomer. The only suspense here will be Frankel’s margin of victory.
Mucarsel-Powell vs. Giménez: The most competitive congressional race in Florida is in Miami-Dade’s 26th district, where first-term Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell faces a serious challenge from outgoing Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez in a highly volatile contest that parallels the race for the White House. Mucarsel-Powell has more money, and Giménez has Trump’s support.
Florida Supreme Court: Justice Carlos Muñiz, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, faces his first merit retention vote. The Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald have all recommend a “no” vote because Muñiz has shown excessive partisanship. Plus, in a Florida Bar poll of lawyers familiar with his work, he got the lowest scores of any justice in the past 40 years. We don’t expect Muñiz to be unseated. Losing a merit retention vote is unprecedented in state history. But we hope an underwhelming margin sends a needed reminder that citizens expect the highest standards of those appointed to the bench.
Florida Legislature: The 120-member Florida House figures to remain Republican, with the GOP illogically holding a lopsided 72-46 advantage in this deep purple state (two seats are vacant). The smaller Senate is a different story. Republicans have a 23-17 advantage, but Democrats could win two competitive open seats in Miami-Dade’s District 39 and Seminole County’s District 9. However, the GOP’s heftier checkbook could dictate the outcome in both places.
Moderate Republicans: Broward’s most hotly contested legislative race pits incumbent Rep. Chip LaMarca, the county’s only Republican legislator, against Democrat Linda Thompson Gonzalez, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and State Department assistant inspector general. The likable LaMarca, a former county commissioner, is well known on Broward’s east side, but Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in House District 93. Will enough Democrats split their tickets to re-elect him?
Palm Beach County’s most hotly contested race is in House District 89, where Republican Rep. Mike Caruso faces a rematch against Democrat Jim Bonfiglio. Two years ago, Caruso won the first round by 32 votes. This time, turnout will be much higher. Can the two moderate Republican incumbents overcome the anti-Trump tide in Democrat-rich Broward and Palm Beach counties?
Flippable Miami-Dade seats: We’ll be watching whether first-term Democratic Rep. Cindy Polo can hold her seat in House District 103, which includes part of Miramar, or whether Republican Tom Fabricio can re-take a seat where no-party voters are the biggest voter bloc. No-party voters also outnumber either party in District 105, which similarly includes part of Miramar. There, Democrat Maureen Porras is facing Republican David Borrero in an open seat held by Republicans for years. Will independents swing left or right on state races?
Constitutional amendments: Of the six questions on the ballot, the Big Three are 2, 3 and 4. They would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years, allow all voters to vote in primaries, and add a requirement that future amendments must pass twice by 60%. Polls show the $15 minimum wage will be a squeaker. It’s polling at 63% when 60% is needed. The open primary initiative — opposed by both major parties — appears to stand little chance of passage. We hope the same is true for Amendment 4, which would make it tougher and costlier for anyone other than the Republicans and lobbyists who rule Tallahassee to decide our future.
City Hall: Twenty Broward cities are holding municipal elections Tuesday. We expect Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis will cruise to an easy victory, given his opponent’s problems with paying his taxes. Hallandale Beach will likely re-elect a longtime mayor who beat charges of public corruption. Pompano Beach will decide whether to replace the entire city commission with a slate of anti-growth challengers. And Coconut Creek is likely setting some kind of record with 18 city charter amendments. If long lines appear anywhere in Broward, first check “the Creek.”
Election drama: In 2018, vote counts and recounts were marred by dysfunction in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and election supervisors Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher lost their jobs. This election is the ultimate test for their replacements, Pete Antonacci in Broward and Wendy Sartory Link in Palm Beach. Antonacci, an appointee of former Gov. Rick Scott, will leave in January and Link, an appointee of Gov. Ron DeSantis, won a four-year term in the Democratic primary. Both appear positioned to deliver the election’s results on election night.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Dan Sweeney, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.
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