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Leon County Elections Supervisor Talks Runoffs, Recounts, and Vote By Mail Turnout

Tom Flanigan

It’s Election Day! Many candidates will find out tonight if they will sit in the seat they’ve been campaigning for. However, sometimes the election day results of don’t give a clear winner leading to another election. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley spoke to WFSU’s Blaise Gainey about how that process works and how this year’s primary election is going.

Blaise Gainey: In the race you have city commission seats, county commission seats and you have multiple people in those races. A lot of times what happens or sometimes those races end up being very close because so many people drawdown the percentage.

Mark Earley: Absolutely.

Blaise Gainey: And then we run into runoff races.

Mark Earley: Or recounts too, Yes.

Blaise Gainey: Could you explain how that process works and what the percentages that they have to come within,

Mark Earley: As far as the potential for a recount or things going forward into the general election based on what's on the ballot this time; the city commission races if there's a city commission race with more than two people, if nobody gets a clear majority, then the top two vote-getters will go to the general election. Same with the county commission races, and I believe the same for the school board. And I think there are several instances where there's, you know, more than just two candidates. If there's only two of course somebody will get a clear victory, or else it will be a tie, in which case we typically just draw a lots, but that's extremely rare. The only other race really that we're two races that might be questionable, they've only got two candidates as the universal primary for the public defender and for the sheriff's race. And so both of those elections and those contests will be decided in this election.

Blaise Gainey: Gotcha. I know, last big election that we had here for Mayor that ended up having a runoff election and a couple of other races. Do you expect those?

Mark Earley: Well, you know, if a race has a whole lot of candidates, typically the vote gets split so finely, that nobody gets a clear majority. And so then typically, it's the top two vote-getters would go on to the general election, as we had in the primary of 2018. We had a commission race that really was the second place, vote-getters that were in question. We had to do a recount for that because we didn't know who that second candidate was going to be that was going to go into the general election. And that's an interesting way for a recount to happen.

Blaise Gainey: You keep saying they clearly want it. Is there a percentage?

Mark Earley: Yes, you have to have a clear majority. So that's 50% plus one extra vote.

Blaise Gainey: Gotcha. So if it's for six people in the race, then.

Mark Earley: Yeah, it's tough to get that clear majority just because everything gets usually, you know, often. But typically you'll have some a group of candidates to get most of the vote and then some trickle off. It depends on how active the candidates are also. And in today's COVID situation, I know that it's been tough for campaigns to generate much money. Yeah.

Blaise Gainey: Okay. So about vote by mail and how that's going. Are the numbers, I mean we've heard about and talked about, we see it being promoted but is it actually record amount of vote-by-mail ballots? Are you seeing it?

Mark Earley: Yes, in Leon County we've received a record number of vote-by-mail ballots more than we've ever received in for a general election. So the response has been great for the community. We've had over 71,000 close to 72,000 requests we've already had I think over 37,000 ballots received back from vote-by-mail, at least roughly 35,000 left. Some of those folks may have decided, you know, if you request to vote by mail, you don't have to vote-by-mail. They may have voted earlier; they may be intending to vote at the polls. So that's why we have drive-in vote-by-mail dropbox, there's a big tent out of my parking lot. One key point, during the early voting period, you could drop off your vote-by-mail ballots at the early voting sites. After early voting in, the only place to receive by mail is here at my office itself. So don't go to the polls expecting to drop off your vote-by-mail ballot into a dropbox to go to your polls. Just go ahead and vote there or bring your vote by mail ballot here to my office at the corner of Apalachee and Capital Circle.

Blaise Gainey: Gotcha. The expectations or election day do you expect a lot of people to be out and about I mean, how are the numbers looking?

Mark Earley: It's hard to predict. But I'd say right now our numbers look very good. We are over 23% about close to 24% turnout. In a typical election like this a primary were usually in the either high 20s or low 30s the most we've ever had, I think was in 2002. We had just right around 38%. In the 2018 election, we had a very high primary turnout, which was unusual. But I think that was, frankly, because our mayor was in the governor's race, and was on the primary ballot. So I think that drove turnout there. So if all we need a little over 19,000 ballots to hit 33% turnout, which, frankly, is really good for a primary. I mean, I wish we had 80% turnout, and then we might well get that in the general but 33% is not outside. You know, that's a high number anyway, and we don't have far to go to get that. And we still have all Election Day with 86 polling sites, and the vote-by-mail drop boxes open up. So I think our turnout actually looks really good.

Blaise Gainey: Cool. So look for on par for a normal election year?

Mark Earley: I'd say it is on par without a doubt. And you know, it might be above what might be an average. So yeah, we're looking good.

Blaise Gainey: All right. Great. Well, thank you for speaking with me, and good luck tonight.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.