Primary early voting begins Saturday
The green flag drops Saturday on a very busy 2020 election season.
Early voting for the Aug. 18 primary begins Saturday at the two “super center” locations established by Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon.
“We are geared up and ready to go,” Hanlon said.
Voting will be 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET each day, including Sunday, at Hanlon’s office at 401 Long Ave. in Port St. Joe and the Wewahitchka Public Library.
“It is a consistency thing,” Hanlon said. “On Election Day we are open 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. so I wanted to cut down as much as possible on any confusion for voters.”
Voters, regardless of where they live in the county, may vote at either location.
The “super center” system was put in place following Hurricane Michael and Hanlon received state permission to use the same model this year.
Hanlon said social distancing will be practiced at both locations and masks must be worn while inside voting.
The voting booths have been moved to be spaced more than six feet apart.
Additionally, the foot traffic flow at Hanlon’s office has been altered so voters enter off Long Ave. and exit through the Fourth Street Early Voting door.
“We are going to limit the number of people in there at any one time,” Hanlon said. “I don’t think it will be a significant thing in the primary, waits may be a little longer.
“But in the general election, with all the constitutional amendments and (federal) races, it’s possible we could see lines for the first time.”
As the pandemic rages, and numbers rise steadily in the county, Hanlon said there has been an increase in those seeking absentee or mail ballots.
“We have seen an uptick,” Hanlon said. “We typically send out about 800 and we have sent out about 1,500 so far and we still have requests.
“By I also see a lot of indications that most voters will still vote in person.”
Further, the national debate concerning mail ballots, Hanlon said, seemed a non-factor in a state that has long employed voting by mail.
“We have always offered vote by mail,” Hanlon said. “The security measures we have in place are what we had in place before COVID-19.
“If that signature on the ballot does not match what we have on file, that ballot does not count. Vote by mail is not uncommon and the systems for security are in place.”
In reality, there are six races, including the State Attorney’s race, which will be appear on the county primary ballots and they are different depending on district.
All eligible Republican voters will have the opportunity to cast a ballot in the primary race for sheriff, pitting incumbent Sheriff Mike Harrison and challenger Rhett Butler.
One Democrat, Jobie Barfield, waits to face the winner in the November general election.
Voters in District 3 will select their representatives on both the Board of County Commissioners and Gulf County School Board.
For the former, the race pits Patrick Farrell and Joan Lovelace.
Both are Republicans so the race becomes a universal primary, all eligible voters in the district, regardless of party affiliation will be able to cast a ballot.
The winner Aug. 18 will succeed Commissioner Jimmy Rogers, who did not run for a second term.
The District 3 school board race pits incumbent Cindy Belin, the current board chair, against former county commissioner Carl Fox.
As school board races are non-partisan, all eligible voters in District 3 will be able to cast votes.
The crowded spot on the ballot is the race to replace the late Billy Quinn, Jr., in the District 4 school board seat, which has remained empty since Quinn’s death in March of last year.
Five candidates filed for the race, in alphabetical order: Thomas Buttram, Deborah Crosby, Marvin Davis, Charles Gathers and Amy Rogers.
This race is likely to require a run-off as one candidate must secure 50 percent plus one of the votes on Aug. 18 to claim victory.
If no candidate reaches that benchmark, likely with five candidates, Hanlon said, a run-off would be held between the top-two vote-getters.