Elections 2020,  Local

How COVID-19 Impacted Turnout and Voting Behavior in Alachua County

With the primary season over, all eyes are on how COVID-19 will impact turnout and how voters will cast their ballots come November. The push to avoid in-person contact poses a clear challenge to reach and register as many eligible voters with rising concerns about the safety of both voters and poll workers.

The Center for Election and Innovation Research, a non-profit that aims to improve voter turnout and election security, reported that voter registration numbers across the country fell dramatically in comparison to 2016.

In Florida, 21,031 new voters registered in April, which is significantly less than the 109,859 voters who registered in February, before lockdowns were put in place across the country. Even online voter registration, which Florida offers, has not made up for lost ground amid a surge of online activity. 

While the data from July to August has yet to be released, the low registration numbers early in the summer caused some concern over the turnout for the August primary.

Despite the low voter registration numbers across the board, Alachua County had a 33% turnout for the August primary, according to the Supervisor of Elections website. Alachua County had a higher August primary turnout in 2020 than in 2016, when turnout then was 25%.

The Communications Director for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections TJ Pyche told Florida Political Review that “We probably didn’t have much of an idea of where we would be compared to past elections just because everything that is going on.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that, compared to past elections like this one, more people were able to make their voices heard through elections.”

COVID-19 did not seem to negatively impact overall turnout in Alachua; however, the pandemic did impact how voters cast their ballots before election day based on party lines.

60.16% of Democrats and 68.54% of No Party Affiliates voted by mail compared to 38.89% of Republicans.

Alachua County voters choosing different voting methods based on party lines is consistent with a survey conducted by Dan Smith, University of Florida professor and chair of the Political Science department, on the impact of COVID-19 on voting.

The survey found that 79.1% of registered Democrats and 64.7% of No Party Affiliates indicated that they plan to vote by mail in comparison to 44.5% of Republicans.

“Is there any wonder why President Trump has been so adamantly opposed to voting by mail—the safest method, health wise, to cast a ballot? The President’s supporters are less likely to say they’re worried about their health when it comes to voting, and less likely to say they will change their vote method from four years ago” Smith said.

President Trump’s comments on voting by mail and the recent changes to the postal service amid a deadly pandemic have caused concern for voters who want to make sure their vote is counted for in November.

The concerns over voting safely and effectively despite the threat of COVID-19 and the infrastructure of the postal service is something the Office the Supervisor of Elections took seriously for the primary.  

“Those types of concerns aren’t new to us, so we always work closely with the local post office and the officials there to do everything we can do to help them, and to help us make sure that as many folks as possible get their ballots in on time,” stated Pyche.

Despite all the worries that COVID-19 will reduce election turnout, the current results in Alachua County say otherwise. While many voters are changing how they vote, they are still interested in making sure their voices are heard.

Featured image: “I voted” stickers. Unmodified image by GPA Photo Archive used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3bCPGbO)

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