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Panama City Beach Voters Cast Ballots Amid Pandemic

Voter turnout in city elections was higher this cycle than it’s been in recent years. While most voters mailed in their ballots to curb the coronavirus spread, many others headed to the polls on Election Day.

61-year-old Cindy Lancaster, a Panama City Beach resident, didn't stay home on Election Day. But she wore protective gear while casting her ballot.

"I have one of those N-95s. I have protective goggles and gloves," she said, after voting inside the Lyndell Senior Center on Tuesday.

Suiting up on a nearly 80-degree is too stuffy, she said. But she wears a mask on trips to the grocery store and any other time she leaves home because she faces a "high-risk" for complications from the virus, Lancaster said. "Also, I go to people that are high-risk, like my father-in-law."

Lancaster is one of 1,236 of registered voters who cast their ballots in-person. She tries not to miss an opportunity to vote, she said.

"This way, I can have my say of who I want to have in there. I think everybody should."

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, voter turnout was actually higher this election cycle than it was in previous years. When residents last elected a city mayor in 2016, there were roughly 2,900 ballots cast. This year, more than 3,300 residents voted for mayor, county elections data shows.

"It has not slowed people from participating in whichever manner they've chosen. So, vote-by-mail is working. Election Day is working. And we had five days of early voting," said Mark Anderson, Bay County's elections supervisor.

The county is one of a few local jurisdictions in the state where local elections set for April weren't postponed due to the pandemic. Election Day for two towns in Gadsden County is set for April 28.

Anderson says cancelling the county's April local elections would've "been really inappropriate."

"Can you imagine the outcome if all of the sudden some get to stay [in office] longer than others? It's an unrecoverable position that you don't want to get into," Anderson said.

Signs posted inside the city's two polling sites warned voters to stay six feet apart from one another. Elections workers were there to make sure they followed social distancing guidelines.

But most voters, this year, cast their ballots by mail.

"Vote-by-mail is very strong in this election. It's the strongest in the cities that we've ever had," Anderson said.

Almost 3,000 voters returned mail-in ballots in the county's three city elections.

"A lot of the candidates pushed the vote-by-mail in their own advertisement," Anderson said. "That was very beneficial for our office and for the elections themselves."

Still, some people, felt more comfortable casting their ballot in person, including William Fuller, 72, whose age puts him in a high-risk group.

"I don't see a problem with coming out and taking the precautions," said Fuller, who also wore a mask to the polls. "I'd rather do it in-person."

Like others, Fuller says he wanted to have a say in the city's future.

"Panama City Beach is growing so fast that we need good management and knowledgeable people and people with business-experience to have input to run it."