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Republicans mailing in more ballots than Democrats; Lee County is No. 1

Nearly 2.6 million Florida voters are receiving mail ballots for the November election.
A rejected mail ballot in Pinellas [Steve Bousquet - Tampa Bay Times]
A rejected mail ballot in Pinellas [Steve Bousquet - Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 17, 2018
Updated Oct. 17, 2018

It's still early, but there's no sign of a blue wave in the initial wave of mail ballot returns in Florida.

Figures filed Wednesday with the state show that more Republicans than Democrats are returning their mail ballots, 20 days before Election Day. Nearly 2.6 million voters have been sent mail ballots — what used to be called absentee ballots — and 554,000 arrived through Tuesday.

Republican mail ballot returns of 247,530 accounted for 45 percent of the total returns statewide, even though Republicans account for 35 percent of all voters. The Democratic returns of 207,171 accounted for 37 percent of the total, the same as the party's share of the statewide electorate.

Returns are updated daily. But if this trend continues, it means Democrats must outperform Republicans in early voting and on election day if any of the party's major candidates are to prevail on Nov. 6.

Republicans have consistently outperformed Democrats in voter turnout in recent midterm elections in Florida. The stakes are especially high in 2018, with an open race for governor and all three Cabinet offices, a tight contest for U.S. Senate, several highly competitive congressional races and a dozen proposed constitutional amendments.

Early voting begins next Monday in most of the state's largest counties and must be underway everywhere by Saturday, Oct. 27.

This is the first election in Florida in which early voting will be available on most state university campuses, following a federal judge's order.

The surprise leader in early mail ballot returns is Lee County, a solidly-Republican part of southwest Florida, where 49,557 mail ballots were returned through Tuesday.

Democrat-leaning Hillsborough is a close second at 48,363, followed by purple Pinellas and Broward and Miami-Dade, the state's two most populous counties and home to most Democrats.