What does the close race mean for Gov. Ron DeSantis? | Editorial
And seven other quick takeaways from the election.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again rally on Oct. 23.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again rally on Oct. 23. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 4, 2020|Updated Nov. 4, 2020

What does the close race mean for DeSantis?

President Donald Trump plucked Ron DeSantis from virtual obscurity in the race for Florida governor two years ago, vaulting the then-congressman from Florida’s east coast past the Republican primary and winning the general election. DeSantis has largely hewed to Trump’s side ever since, even castigating the media as Florida struggled to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which by recent indications is getting worse. If Trump loses, does DeSantis change his style if not his substance? Does he try to fill the Republican leadership void? What if Trump wins, but it’s razor close? How does DeSantis — who is widely regarded for his political instincts — interpret such a close race, and what meaning does he see for the Republican Party and Republican electoral prospects in general? The answers will surely shape DeSantis’ approach to reelection or a presidential campaign.

Florida gets voting process right

A generation after being ridiculed as Flori-duh for its hanging chads and butterfly ballots, Florida showed the nation the right way for a big state to run a smooth and efficient election. More than 11 million Floridians voted, either by mail, early or in person on Election Day. That’s more than 76 percent of all eligible voters. All used a paper ballot that is electronically scanned, a sensible system Florida settled on after unhappy returns using punch cards and touchscreen voting. Letting local supervisors of elections tabulate mail ballots as they arrived rather than forcing them to wait until the polls closed helped greatly. It meant that elections officials could spend Election Day serving those same-day voters, having already taken care of the mail-in ballots. That efficiency allowed the Associated Press to call Florida for President Donald Trump at 12:34 this morning, although the outcome was clear far earlier.

Hillsborough embraces new crime-fighting approach

State Attorney Andrew Warren’s victory to a second-term shows that Hillsborough County has embraced a new approach to fighting crime. Warren instituted a number of reforms during his first four years, most aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration for lower-level offenders. He has supported juvenile diversion programs to spare nonviolent children a criminal record, broader assistance for substance abusers and a closer examination of racial bias within the criminal justice system. Warren also created a unit within his office to review past convictions, an important auditing tool that raises the office’s professional standards. His strong showing Tuesday after only a single term validates Warren’s approach in the face of continued criticism by some in local law enforcement.

Pinellas supports its schools

For the fifth time, Pinellas voters overwhelmingly agreed to tax themselves to support their schools. With 80 percent saying yes, voters re-approved a half-mill property tax — about $7.15 a month for the average single family homeowner — that raised roughly $44.5 million last year. Since 2004, the tax has generated $477 million for the district, which is dedicated to teacher salaries, art, music and technology, including desperately needed iPads and tablets crucial for remote learning during the pandemic. The county may have split between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, with the former vice president winning by a razor-thin 1,000 votes or so, but Pinellas residents left no doubt that they agree on one thing: Their public schools are worth it. It’s a reminder that voters will support worthy causes and dig in their own pockets when they see the direct positive results.

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Floridians turned out the vote

More than 11 million Floridians — and counting — turned out to vote, an impressive three-quarters of eligible voters. That would be quite an achievement in any election, but it’s truly special in a year with a pandemic that has killed more than 17,000 Floridians and forced changes in voting behavior. Even before Election Day, more than 9 million Floridians had already voted either early or by mail. That was nearly 2.5 million more early voters than in 2016. In fact, Florida surpassed its total 2016 turnout early on Election Day, because only half a million voters had to cast ballots on Tuesday to beat that total. In 2016, nearly 3 million Floridians voted on the actual Election Day.

Amendment 3 sends a signal

Florida’s Amendment 3 was a controversial ballot measure from the start: It would challenge how Florida has traditionally conducted its primary elections by allowing all voters, regardless of party affiliation, to vote for state legislative, gubernatorial and cabinet candidates. The top two candidates, regardless of party, would proceed to the general election ballot. The amendment did not exceed the 60 percent majority required to pass, but 57 percent of voters, or more than 5.8 million, voted yes on the measure. That shows how hungry Floridians are for real change to the way the state conducts its primaries. Florida is currently one of only 14 states that allow parties to use a closed primary, meaning that only registered party voters can vote for the party’s candidates in a primary. But that process disenfranchises the state’s no-party affiliated voters. As of Aug. 31, Florida’s 3.65 million registered NPA voters made up about a quarter of the state’s 14 million total registered voters. Top-two primaries were not the right way to accomplish that goal, but hopefully this sends a clear message to state leaders that Floridians are hungry for a better way to include no-party affiliated voters in the primary process.

Amendment 4 goes down in flames

Florida voters sent a strong message with the defeat of 2020′s Amendment 4: Don’t make it harder to pass amendments to the state Constitution. They roundly — and rightly — quashed the idea that they should have to vote in two separate elections to pass an amendment. Proponents who argued for the harder requirement said the Constitution should not be “cluttered up;" policy-making should be left to the Legislature, they said. First, getting an amendment onto the ballot is not easy, nor is getting 60 percent of the electorate to vote in favor. Second, voters wouldn’t feel so compelled to support certain amendments if the Legislature responded to popular ideas, like preserving more wild lands and allowing felons to vote. Lawmakers should finally take notice: Do your job — pass laws that voters overwhelmingly support or the voters will do it for you.

Incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners won—but narrowly

The race for re-election for two incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners should not have been about science and partisan politics, but that’s what it became. Incumbent Democratic commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice won re-election to their respective seats — but by much thinner margins than anticipated. Long won with 50.6 percent of the vote and by only roughly 6,000 votes in her at-large district, meaning the entire county was able to vote. She ran against well-known former state representative Larry Ahern. In Justice’s at-large District 3 seat, he won by 50.3 percent of the vote and fewer than 4,000 votes to hold his seat against newcomer Republican candidate Tammy Sue Vasquez. Both candidates were right to stay strong against anti-maskers, who threatened to vote them out over their ongoing support of a mask mandate. The position cost them votes, but emphasizing the importance of masks in the fight against the pandemic was the right call for the county. Thankfully, the two incumbents won reelection despite the misplaced attacks.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news