ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Early voting in St. Johns County for the 2020 primary has been brisk, according to Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes.
“First two days --1,800 each day," Oakes said. "We’re over 800 today so we know that’s going to continue to increase."
Oakes said that amounts to roughly 10 percent turnout so far and she anticipates an ultimate turnout of 30-32 percent.
“I think we’ll see a good turnout. I know we will,” she said, attributing the anticipation to several key local races as well as the upcoming presidential election. She also said that even considering the coronavirus crisis, the number of requests for mail-in ballots has been impressive.
“By the time we finish mailing ballots for the August primary, we will have mailed 50,000 vote-by-mail ballots, and that’s a double increase on what we normally do,” Oakes said.
The supervisor also pointed to several strategies aimed at maximizing safety for those who show up to vote in-person. One is increasing the number of polling stations from six in previous elections to eight – the two additional ones are at the Shoppes of St. Johns (former Earth Fare) at 120 Shops Boulevard, and the St. Johns Convention Center at World Golf Village at 500 South Legacy Trail in St. Augustine.
The other measures are making sure staff are equipped with face shields, masks, gloves and hand sanitizer at each location. Although voters are encouraged to bring their own masks, Oakes assured that masks are being provided for those who forget.
“There will be no voter in St. Johns County that is turned away simply because they do not have a mask on,” she said.
Oakes was equally emphatic that worries about voter fraud and election tampering are “unfounded.”
“Florida has a great, very safe, secure system,” she said.
Even President Trump, who has voiced skepticism about election integrity - particularly concerning mail-in ballots - has specifically praised Florida’s system in recent days.
Pointing out one safeguard about mail-in votes, Oakes said “A voter can actually track their own vote-by-mail ballot from the time it’s requested to the time it’s mailed. They vote it, return it back to us, they can see the day that we’ve received it, and they can verify that their vote has been counted.”
The elections supervisor said each mail-in ballot requires a signature, which is manually compared to the voter’s record. In the event of mismatch or no signature, she said officials reach out to the voter by phone, email and postal mail if necessary, in an effort to validate the ballot. That typically requires an affidavit and a copy of the voter’s photo ID no later than 5 p.m. the second day after the election, in this case, August 20.
Voters can also drop off mail-in ballots at any of the polling locations during hours of operation, or any time at the elections office, at 4455 Avenue A, #101, St. Augustine. What they won’t be able to do, Oakes assured, is to cast both a mailed and in-person ballot.
That’s assured partially by a system that doesn’t send out postal ballots unless a voter requested by an individual voter – the deadline to request a mail-in ballot for the primary in St. Johns County elapsed Saturday afternoon, August 8th – and by what Oakes called “electronic poll books.”
“It’ll say if the voter has already voted. It will tell [officials] if they’ve been mailed a vote-by-mail ballot,” she said.
Nevertheless, some uncertainty exists even in the minds of those showing up to vote.
“I believe that it’ll be a legitimate election here,” veteran Tom Smith of St. Augustine said specifically of St. Johns County. “They tend to look at things very carefully and I have some confidence in the system because I’ve been here and I know some of those people. Other places in the nation, I’m not very confident at all.”
Smith elaborated, saying “There’s so much false information being given, so many lies being told. It’s very difficult to ascertain what the truth really is.”
In separate phone conversations with First Coast News Saturday, candidates Rob Hardwick and Chris Strickland each said they have faith in the election, which will decide who becomes St. Johns County’s next sheriff.
Despite any misgivings, Smith agreed that the right to vote is a cornerstone of any democracy, and urged that all who are eligible cast a vote.
“That’s the one thing that I’ve fought for in a war, and a lot of people before me.”
For information about voting in St. Johns County, click here.