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Vote-by-mail turnout for August primary higher than in previous elections

From the Election 2020 series
  • Updated
  • 3 min to read

Cady Casellas sent her primary ballot through the mail two weeks early, because she was not sure it would arrive in time to be counted by 7 p.m. on Aug. 18.

The 22-year-old UF telecommunication alumna voted by mail for the very first time in the Aug. 18 primary. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the U.S. as it has since March, tens of thousands of other voters in Alachua County followed suit. 

More people voted by mail in the Aug. 18 primary than voted by mail in either the November 2016 or November 2018 general elections, according to Alachua County Supervisor of Elections data. Of the 185,000 Alachua County residents registered to vote, almost 55,000 registered to receive mail ballots for the November 2020 election.

“I voted by mail because I thought it was more safe than putting myself at risk in going in person,” Casellas said.

The nearly 34,000 mail-in ballots cast in the Aug. 18 primary were more than double those cast in the last three primary elections, according to the data. 

Mail-in ballots accounted for about 30% of overall ballots cast in the last two elections and increased to 55% for the Aug. 18 primary, according to the data.

The county also saw its highest primary election voter turnout in more than 20 years, at about 33%, according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections.

But voters like Casellas said they are unsure of the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle a sharp increase in mail ballots.

Concerns surrounding the Postal Service’s ability to deliver ballots on time started when Louis DeJoy, a multimillionaire with investments in the service’s competitors, became postmaster general on May 6. Leaked internal memos showed the Postal Service prohibiting overtime for workers even when mail had not been delivered, claiming it was not cost-effective. 

The memos also acknowledge that some mail may be left behind at the end of the day, delaying on-time delivery. The need to cut costs came at a time where the Postal Service is running a $160.9 billion deficit as of April 2020 and lost a net $2 billion last quarter. On Aug. 22, the House of Representatives passed a $25 billion bill to fund the Postal Service, but Senate leadership quickly shut down any hope of it actually becoming law.

On July 29-31, the Postal Service sent letters to 46 states, including Florida, warning that state vote-by-mail deadlines conflict with the Postal Service’s ability to get ballots delivered on time. 

In a statement sent to The Alligator, the Postal Service outlined its recommendations for sending mail-in ballots for the upcoming November election. The Postal Service recommends Florida voters mail in their ballots by Oct. 27, one week before Election Day, to ensure delivery by the deadline. Alachua County voters can also drop off their mail-in ballots to a dropbox at the Supervisor of Elections office, located at 515 N. Main St.

Casellas plans on filling out a mail-in ballot for November’s general election and dropping it off directly to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections because of the uncertainty surrounding the Postal Service. 

But out-of-state students in Gainesville don’t have that option. Kiora Whittle, a 19-year-old UF advertising senior and a first-time voter, said she might drive to her hometown of Morganton, North Carolina, to vote in-person for the general election in November. 

She said she was concerned about the reliability of the Postal Service. 

“I'm honestly concerned at whether or not the mailing system is even very accurate to use right now,” Whittle said.

Black, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander and other voters accounted for 31% of Aug. 18 primary voters in Alachua County, according to data provided by the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. A study done by the Brennan Center for Justice showed that Black and Latino voters accounted for 46.4% of Florida’s mail-ballots submitted in 2016. 

Whittle, who is Black, is worried that the issues with the Postal Service could suppress minority votes in 2020. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2016, young and minority voters were twice as likely to have their mail ballots rejected.

“It definitely does feel like the minority population is being very targeted within the stuff that's going on right now,” she said.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Casellas will be voting in Broward County. The Alligator previously reported otherwise.

Contact Steven at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @swalker_7.

Staff Writer

Steven Walker is the 2020 national election reporter for The Alligator. He is a junior journalism major at UF, and in his first semester with The Alligator.