Voters headed to polls as key races contested in unprecedented primary election

Significant races — and likely also some concern over personal interaction during a pandemic — led to larger than expected participation in early voting and vote-by-mail in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. And with the polls open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., many people are also out in person to have their vote counted.

Significant races — and likely also some concern over personal interaction during a pandemic — led to larger than expected participation in early voting and vote-by-mail in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. And with the polls open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., many people also went out in person to have their vote counted.

In Miami-Dade County, a total of 364,685 ballots had been cast as of 3 p.m., combining early voting, vote-by-mail and Tuesday's in-person votes.

There are 1.49 million registered voters in Miami-Dade.

As for Broward County, 268,329 votes had been cast as of noon on Tuesday, out of 1.23 million registered voters.

“Everyone has different motivating factors to come out and vote. For me, it’s just the thing to do as an American citizen,” said Ivan Trabal, who voted Tuesday morning in Davie.

Tyrone White was impressed with the COVID-19 safety precautions when he voted at Rick Case Honda in Davie, where the showroom was cleared out to make room for voting booths.

“They checked your temperature before you actually went into the voting facility,” he said. “They have hand sanitizer in there and pens that you can take for yourself. Everyone has a pen, so no one has to share a pen.”

Down in Miami Beach, Angela Silva was one of the first voters in line at her Miami Beach precinct.

She was initially planning to vote by mail, but instead decided to show up in person, fearing her mail-in ballot wouldn’t reach officials in time.

“Everything is weird nowadays. Nothing is normal,” she said. “I’m not too comfortable with [mail-in voting] so that’s why I’m here.”

While many of the races on the ballot are hotly contested, the temperature was also up at one polling place in Miami Beach. The Fienberg Fisher K-8 school gym lost its air conditioning because of a lightning strike overnight. Rather than move the location at the last minute, officials decided to bring in some extra fans to try to keep voters and poll workers cool.

Just one more twist to what has been an unusual election cycle.

While many took advantage of mail voting, there are still plenty of people out casting ballots in person for Tuesday's primary election.

At Lauderhill City Hall, people were trickling in and out to vote, though not in large crowds by any means. The pandemic has clearly made vote-by-mail more popular.

Election officials weren’t sure what the turnout would look like Tuesday after a higher than normal number of people took advantage of early voting and the mail voting process ahead of election day.

“I’m expecting the turnout overall to be a little bit higher than usual, primarily attributable to the local elections that are hotly contested,” Broward Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci said. “I think we’ll have in excess of 25% turnout, which will be the highest for any August primary.”

Important races

In Broward, the face of the justice process will change, with a new state attorney and public defender.

In Miami-Dade, the state attorney race has garnered national attention. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney for the past 27 years, was challenged by former employee Melba Pearson, whose platform for police accountability was amplified by protests after the death of George Floyd.

Incumbent Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and challenger Melba Pearson discuss key issues on This Week in South Florida.

Fernandez Rundle won that race.

But Dade’s top-of-the-ballot race is for county mayor, with the frontrunners three sitting commissioners and a former county mayor. Record-setting fundraising fueled plenty of attack ads in that one.

In Broward, a bitter tone in attacks has sparked the Democratic primary for sheriff, the de facto hole race in this overwhelmingly democratic county. The leading candidates were: former Sheriff Scott Israel, who was removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas murders and current Sheriff Gregory Tony, who has faced some controversies of his own. Retired BSO veteran Al Pollock has gotten significant attention as an alternative. Tony ultimately claimed victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Strong turnout before Tuesday

On Monday, a steady stream of Miami-Dade residents came to drop off their vote-by-mail ballots at a designated location in Doral.

“The only reason I’m doing it like this is because of COVID-19,” voter James Williams said. “I could have [mailed it]. I just want to make sure they have it on time.”

Esther T. Sanchez, another voter dropping off her ballot, said: “It’s safer. Don’t have to worry about [the ballot] making it to the elections department.”

“We did see a big spike in requests [for mail ballots], so that’s really where we thought the election was going to fall — mostly vote-by-mail,” said Christina White, Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. “I think that’s still going to be the case, by the way. But yeah, the number of people who still came in person was certainly surprising.”

For those who planned to vote at their polling place Tuesday, the supervisors of elections wanted them to know that they’re ready, and it’s going to be safe.

“It will be the most sanitary voting experience in their history,” Antonacci said.

Sanitizing and social distancing have become the norm at polling locations, many of which will be staffed by poll workers who are seniors, the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“They have shown up to work,” Antonacci said. “At early voting, we had no drop-off, and I [suspect] that tomorrow morning, every single precinct — 577 of them — will be staffed primarily by senior citizens.”

The polls were open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and any voters waiting in line at 7 p.m. had the opportunity to cast a ballot. In order to vote, you must provide a Florida driver’s license, identification card, U.S. passport or some other form of photo identification with signature.

Those who had a mail-in ballot were able to drop it off at specified Miami-Dade and Broward locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

For more information on however you choose to vote, see our Local 10 Voter Guide for 2020.

About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."

Sanela Sabovic joined Local 10 News in September 2012 as an assignment editor and associate producer. In August 2015, she became a full-time reporter and fill-in traffic reporter. Sanela holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film from DePaul University.