| Fort Myers News-Press
President Trump casts his ballot in Florida
The president arrived at a West Palm Beach, Fla. polling location to vote in the 2020 election before heading off to several rallies in key states.
More than 90% of Collier County’s actively registered voters cast ballots in the 2020 general election, a new record for the county and the highest rate in Florida, according to unofficial returns Wednesday.
Neighboring Lee County’s turnout hit 81.7% — the best performance from voters there since 2008 and the 12th best statewide.
“We officially were expecting about 87%, so seeing 90% was a nice surprise for us,” said Trish Robertson, spokeswoman for the Collier elections office. “It was a good day. Not sure what we could have done differently, but I just posted a survey on social media for voters to complete. So maybe we’ll learn something from that for the future.”
Elections offices in Southwest Florida reported that Election Day voting, early in-person voting and mailed-in ballot casting went off largely without a hitch. Lee County reported a few scanning malfunctions at several polling stations, though those were later resolved, officials said.
This is the second presidential election in a row in which Collier has topped the state’s counties for voter turnout. Rounding out the top five were Sumter, Monroe, St. Johns and Martin counties.
Sumter County is home to the massive retirement community known as The Villages, a staunchly Republican stronghold. Monroe, Martin, St. Johns and Collier are among the state’s wealthiest counties.
Voters in each of the top five turnout counties backed President Donald Trump by mostly large margins. All but Monroe County supported the president with more than 60% of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
Collier County voters backed Trump by a 62% to 37% margin, compared to their 61% to 35% support of him four years earlier. Lee, also a strongly Republican county, backed the president by a 59% to 40% margin, nearly matching its 2016 margin of 59% to 38%.
Tommy Doyle, Lee County’s Supervisor of Elections, said despite the turnout rate, he was expecting 40,000 more people to vote on Election Day. A total of 59,159 voters came out on Election Day in Lee.
“I thought it was low yesterday,” Doyle said Wednesday. “But I guess everybody decided to vote early. I was thinking we’d have (a turnout rate) in the mid-80s, high-80s.”
The two counties also voted overwhelmingly to send Republican Byron Donalds to Congress with a combined 61% of the vote. Donalds replaces Republican Francis Rooney, who opted to retire from the seat.
Florida voters were also asked to consider five proposed constitutional amendments. At least 60% is required for approval. Here’s how they played out in Lee and Collier:
- A proposal to change the Florida Constitution’s language from “Every citizen…” to “Only a citizen” may vote in elections won overwhelmingly in both counties. That tracks with unofficial statewide returns showing 79% voter approval of the change.
- A proposed constitutional amendment to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour failed to reach the required 60% threshold in Lee and Collier, even though majorities in both favored the measure. Overall, 61% of Floridians approved the measure.
- An amendment that would have opened up primaries to all voters, regardless of party, won 58% of the vote in Lee and 49% in Collier. The measure failed statewide, winning only 57% of the vote.
- A proposal that would have required Florida voters to vote twice on proposed constitutional amendments before they could be enacted failed to win even simple majorities in Lee and Collier. Both counties’ votes are nearly identical to the statewide vote of only 48% approving.
- And, finally, two separate measures — one extending the “Save our Homes” tax benefit transfer and another calling for property tax discounts for veterans’ spouses — both won overwhelmingly in Lee (77% and 91%, respectively) and Collier (80% and 92%). Statewide, both passed, with 75% and 90% support of voters, respectively.
One potential Lee County issue in the coming days is a tight race for a seat on the Lee Health Board of Directors. Incumbent Jessica Carter Peer received the lowest percentage out of three candidates vying for two seats.
Earlier coverage: 10 candidates vying for 6 Lee Health board seats in 2020
Peer’s margin could trigger a required machine recount of all county ballots if the margin gets to 0.5%. According to preliminary returns Wednesday afternoon, the difference was 0.41%. But about 2,500 provisional and other ballots still remained to be counted in Lee County, Doyle said.
Peer has the option to turn down such a recount. Peer did not immediately respond to an interview request Wednesday.
Frank Gluck is a watchdog reporter with The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @FrankGluck