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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 13, 201805:20 AM EST

Primary election, dismal turnout: Early voting opens in Duval County

Duval County voter participation usually is low in nonpresidential election years, but the partisan divide could change that.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

If it’s true that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about government, about eight out of 10 registered voters will need to keep their opinions to themselves after Aug. 28.

That’s because voter turnout for primary elections in Duval County, particularly such as the one currently underway, averages only about 20 percent.

The Aug. 28 primary election might not follow that trend.

The historically low turnout for primaries can be attributed to multiple reasons, said Rick Mullaney, director of the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business.

The system of closed primary elections in Florida is one contributing factor, he said.

In Duval County, nearly 22 percent of voters are registered as No Party Preference, which precludes them from helping put their favored Democrat or Republican on the ballot in November.

Also, with three months remaining until the winner of each office will be decided, Mullaney said many voters aren’t confident that they know enough about the candidates to make their voting decisions.

In addition, since it’s a mid-term election,  between presidential elections, the process has less media coverage.

“The presidential years are highly publicized and the stakes are high,” Mullaney said.

That said, Mullaney predicts the current political climate could send more voters to the polls for the primary and general elections than in previous years.

The national discussion of politics and the finer points of the electoral process that marked the last presidential election hasn’t diminished as it has after previous presidential preference votes.

“The partisan divide is as glaring as it’s been in my lifetime,” Mullaney said.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan also expects above-average participation in this year’s elections.

“I think we could hit 30 percent,” Hogan said, based on high-profile races for governor, state cabinet posts, and national and state legislators. Also on the ballot are nonpartisan elections for several judicial and school board seats and a special election for tax collector.

Hogan says early voting also could increase participation because Duval County offers the maximum number of days allowed by state law.

“We start the earliest day you can start,” he said.

Through Aug. 26, two days before the polls will be open at the 199 precincts in the county, registered voters may cast their ballot seven days a week at 18 locations.

Hogan said when the sites close Aug. 26, the early vote information will be entered into the secure electronic voter identification system and the registration roll will be updated. If a registered voter cast their ballot during early voting, they won’t be able to vote again on election day at their assigned precinct.

“That ensures there will be no double votes,” he said.

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