Thursday, June 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Florida Voters Head to Polls in Pandemic Primary

Florida’s poll workers — armed with sanitizer, gloves, face masks and, in some cases, face shields — welcomed voters on Tuesday during the state’s first primary election held in a pandemic.

(CN) — Millions of Floridians voted on Tuesday for the state's second primary during the pandemic, greeted by poll workers armed with sanitizer, gloves, face masks and, in some cases, face shields.

All of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats are up for election, with the majority already decided before the primary, along with several down-ballot races for local offices and the state legislature. There are no statewide races.

Though election officials opened most polling locations at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, a record number of people chose mail-in ballots or voted early — a sign of how the coronavirus has affected voting in the state.

As of election day, more than 2.2 million Floridians voted by mail, according to the state’s division of elections, with Democrats submitting roughly 350,000 more ballots than Republicans. Another 558,000 residents voted early with a slight Republican majority.

In the 2018 August primary, 1.3 million chose to vote by mail.

Just before noon, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee assured voters that polling locations in the state’s 67 counties are “open, prepared and equipped for voters.”

“Supervisors [of elections] have taken health precautions to keep voters and election workers safe and to mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” Lee told reporters, adding her office has worked with county emergency managers to have enough sanitation supplies.

Keeping poll locations across Florida stocked and sanitized is a tremendous undertaking. Miami-Dade County alone has 864 precincts.

“Employees and volunteers are all wearing gloves and constantly sanitizing,” said Roberto Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral.

Florida has a closed primary, which means only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for candidates in their respective party.

Florida’s congressional delegation consists of 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Most of the state’s congressional seats are not competitive this year, but three districts could change party hands in November. 

Tuesday’s primary results may give an indication of which party has the edge in the state.

In Florida’s 15th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Ross Spano faced Scott Franklin, a Lakeland city commissioner.

The district encompasses Central Florida rural communities and the northern suburbs of Tampa.

Spano made headlines after winning his seat in 2018 due to investigations by the Department of Justice and The Florida Bar into possible campaign finance violations. He denied any wrongdoing. 

Those allegations may have led to his opponent, Franklin, narrowly beating him on Tuesday. Preliminary results show Franklin with 51% of the vote versus Spano’s 48%.

Franklin, who served in the Navy and runs a small business in Lakeland, frequently pushed his support for President Donald Trump’s policies.

In the Democratic primary, three candidates hoped to flip this Republican leaning district in November: investigative journalist Alan Cohn, Florida State Representative Adam Hattersley and Jesse Philippe, a former Marine.

Cohn, who ran for the seat in 2014 and lost by more than 45,000 votes, beat out his challengers on Tuesday with 41% of the vote.

Two congressional primaries in South Florida also grabbed attention.

In the 26th District, two Republicans ran to face incumbent Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in November: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Omar Blanco, a firefighter, hoped to return the seat to the GOP.

Before voters elected Muscarsel-Powell in 2018 by a thin margin, the seat was held by a Republican for six years.

Gimenez was considered a favorite in the race and one of the only Republicans running who was formally endorsed by Trump.

But with massive name recognition in the county, Gimenez handily beat Blanco 60% to 40% with only a handful of precincts left to report.

The district covers portions of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.

In the state’s 27th District, incumbent Democrat Donna Shalala will face Maria Elvira Salazar, a journalist of 35 years. Salazar faced Shalala in 2018 and received more than 45% of the vote.

With 79% of the vote Salazar easily beat out her two Republican opponents: Juan Fiol, a Miami-native and real estate agent with Cuban roots, and Raymond Molina, who has deep ties to the Cuban community as a Bay of Pigs veteran. Both candidates regularly mentioned their “fight against the threat of socialism” during the campaign.

The district covers half of Miami and a large part of Miami-Dade County.

Although South Florida leans Democratic, the large Cuban population typically votes Republican.

At the West Dade Regional Library, Mike Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, said he planned to vote Republican straight down the ticket.

“I am voting for whoever supports the police and doesn’t believe in all the nonsense going on and all the rioting,” said Gutierrez.

Miami native Luis Rodriguez said he did his research and came prepared.

“I am a Republican, but I don’t necessarily vote the party line,” he said. “I vote my conscience.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.