More than 8.1 million people had cast ballots in Florida late Tuesday, a huge midterm turnout that strained, but did not immediately appear to overwhelm, the state’s election system.
As of 11:30 p.m. eastern standard time, overall voter turnout stood at 61.4 percent. That included:
HILLSBOROUGH: 514,090 ballots, 60 percent
PINELLAS: 435,094 ballots, 65.2 percent
PASCO: 211,967 ballots, 60.2 percent
HERNANDO: 81,361 ballots, 60.8 percent
The day had not passed without snags. Stories of voter access troubles came from around the state, and the voting system was only as smooth as the people and machines administering it. Seven precincts could not transmit vote totals in Broward County; officials were driving the files to election headquarters shortly before 11 p.m.
As many as 30 voters in Brooksville got the wrong ballot, according to Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson. Some of the first residents at the Jerome Brown Community Center were given county ballots, which did not include a city council race or a question on whether fluoride should remain in the water supply. Anderson called it human error.
Patricia Lincoln, 51, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said a single poll worker nearly derailed her voting experience at the Coliseum downtown. She forced Lincoln to sign her name four times, before seeing her voter card and allowing her through
“She said the bottom line of your ‘L’ doesn’t match. I said, are you kidding me?” Lincoln recalled. “I literally felt a cold dread.”
Voters in predominantly black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg in the morning dealt with technology issues that stalled lines in at least two locations. A tabulation machine froze at Lakewood United Methodist Church, leading workers to stop the process of casting ballots, and a printer jammed at the Thomas ‘Jet’ Jackson Recreation Center, causing volunteers to temporarily knock the voter registration database system offline.
A pastor in Pasco County posted a sign outside his church, which served as a polling location, threatening residents not to show up Sunday if they voted for Democrats.
Machine issues forced voters to cast provisional ballots in one precinct in Alachua County, around Gainesville, according to Common Cause, a nonpartisan voter watchdog group.
Residents encountered more overt difficulties in other places. A security guard was asking people for identification to access a voting location in a gated community in Broward County, according to broadcaster WRLN. A Palm Beach Post reporter found that workers were also vetting people to reach a polling station at a country club in Boca Raton.
In some precincts in Duval County, Spanish language ballots were not available, according to Common Cause, flouting state law.
Scrutiny was especially high in Bay County, leveled last month by Hurricane Michael. The polling locations opened amid the wreckage were not easily accessible, especially to black residents, according the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which requested in a letter that state and local officials improve their efforts.
“We are concerned that with the devastation in the Panama City area, many African-American voters simply will not have an opportunity to cast a ballot on election day,” said Adora Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference, in a statement Tuesday.
The group, along with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, took particular issue that an early voting site popular among black residents was closed on election day. Trolleys were shuttling people to other voting locations Tuesday, but they weren’t running all day.
Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said days before the election he tried his best after the disaster to accommodate all voters and that one building the NAACP recommended was infected with mold.
“This should not be a political issue,” he said. “It’s not fair what’s being put out there.”
Even as ballots rolled in at high rates, Floridians expressed anxiety at the polls. The months leading up to the election were racked with conspiracies and confusion, vague threats of Russian hacking, old machines and warnings about the perils of mismatched signatures. The supervisors of election, meanwhile, continued to assure that tabulation systems were up to date and that security was being taken seriously. Several encouraged voters to cast ballots early or by mail, to cut down on the inevitable election day lines.
Pictures throughout the day showed voters across Florida snaking across sidewalks, out front doors and around the corners of buildings.
Susan Cary, a volunteer, helped hand out water in the afternoon to the many people who waited to vote at Wyndham Garden in Gainesville.
"We knew that there was a big interest, but we had no idea of the magnitude," she said.
Far from home, some Florida voters were lamenting that their voices would not count. They had tried to request mail ballots, they said, but did not receive them in time.
David Kendall Casey, a graduate student in Atlanta from Pinellas County, said he is a Democrat who believes his vote is significant in a battleground state but never got his absentee ballot.
“I have a chance to make a real difference and it’s out of my hands,” said Casey, 24. “It’s up to someone else to give me that right, and I just can’t act on it.”
Ed Handley, 57, a Navy commander in Virginia who votes in Duval County, also never got his absentee ballot. He is registered with no party affiliation.
“I don’t have my right to practice the democratic process,” he said. “It’s just frustrating especially in an election year where every vote is going to count. The future hangs on this election.”
For national and statewide election results check out The Buzz.
For local election results check out the Bay Buzz.
For school board election results check out The Gradebook.
Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Divya Kumar, Monique Welch, Barbara Behrendt, Justin Trombly, Cat Gloria and Lawrence Mower contributed to this report. This story was reported in collaboration with ProPublica, and other media partners, as part of Electionland — a nationwide effort to track voting access and problems at the ballot box.