Mostly smooth sailing at the polls as Lee and Collier surge to record turnouts

Frank Gluck

Jake Allen

Michael Braun
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

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2020: Election Day in Florida

Here’s a look in Florida as of Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Voters cast ballots in Lee and Collier counties in record numbers this general election season. But, thanks to hundreds of thousands of early votes in Southwest Florida, those waiting to cast ballots on Election Day mostly faced few lines and no signs of trouble as they went to the polls.

By Tuesday evening, more than 595,500 people had voted by all means in the two counties, with more than 389,000 in Lee and 204,000 in Collier. Election Day voters topped 52,000 in Lee and 25,500 in Collier.

Collier had already reached 87% turnout by 3 p.m., matching its 2016 turnout, which was at least a 24-year record for the county. Lee County had reached its 2016 level of 78.5% shortly thereafter. Lee County had its highest turnout in a generation in 2008, when 84.8% of registered voters cast ballots.

“We anticipate it (breaking the turnout record),” said Trish Robertson, spokeswoman for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections. “We just aren’t sure where we are going to land at. If I were to guess, I’d guess we were going to land right around 90 percent or maybe a little bit higher. At least that’s what we are hoping for.”

Florida set a statewide record in 1992 when about 83% of registered voters cast ballots. As polls opened Tuesday, about 63% of the state’s voters had already voted.

Voters in Lee and Collier began lining up shortly before the polls opened at 7 a.m. That led to some morning waits, though those had largely subsided by mid-morning.

Elections offices said that early in-person and mail-in voting meant that most registered voters in both counties had already cast ballots before Tuesday. And, in both counties, elections offices reported that people continued to drop off mail-in ballots throughout the day.

Still, some voters said Tuesday that they prefer observing the Election Day tradition and going in person.

Among them was Scott Raynor, who was waiting in line along with about 75 voters  before the doors opened at precincts 60 and 69 at the Estero Community Center recreation building.

Asked why he waited to vote, Raynor said: “This is the day to do it!”

Raynor said his hope was that the day ends just as mellow as it started.

Nicole Burmeister, 31, who has lived in Collier for five years, voted at the Collier County Library Headquarters on Election Day.

“I like Election Day,” Burmeister said. “I think just about being a female and how women have not always been able to vote. This day is bigger than early voting to me, being able to show my support for the country and to use my vote to try to change things in the government.” 

Live updates:Lee County hits afternoon lull as voting precincts mostly quiet

Voters interviewed at the polls in the two counties reported no problems of intimidation or other bad behavior, though they said they worried about the possibility. Both elections offices confirmed they had heard of no trouble.

Still, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law reported some incidents throughout the state, including a man yelling through a megaphone and a man with a concealed weapon in unspecified locations.

Both were reported to local elections officials, said Kristen Clarke, the organization’s president and executive director.

Lee County did report one hiccup earlier in the day when scanning machines at several polling stations were having problems reading ballot pages containing proposed constitutional amendments. 

“Poll workers are instructing voters to place the second page of the ballot in the emergency bin of the tabulator,” the Lee County elections office stated in a morning news release. “They will be tabulated at our tabulation center location.”

Election results: Track Collier County, statewide races here

Election results: Track Lee County, statewide races here

Voters on Tuesday offered differing reasons for their decisions to vote, but all said they felt it their civic duty.

Susan Eberhard, a supporter of President Donald Trump, said she hopes the day will end civilly, no matter who wins.

“I’m concerned,” said Eberhard, who was sporting a pink Trump ball cap. “About certain people’s actions. I won’t behave poorly if the outcome isn’t what I want. But I don’t trust others.”

David McDonald, 66, who cast a ballot at the Goodland Community Center on Marco Island, called the 2020 election the most important of his life.

“I feel like the country needs a fundamental change in the direction we are going now,” he said.

Mary McDonald, who accompanied him, agreed: “We need to return to civility, honesty and respect.”

Florida has up to 10 days to count and tabulate all the votes, including those ballots coming in after Tuesday from members of the military serving overseas.

This story includes reporting by USA TODAY Network reporters Grace Hauck, John Kennedy and Omar Rodríguez Ortiz.

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