Whatever the outcome of this year's elections, in Sarasota County, the process has already been historic. Roughly two-thirds of the county's registered voters (66.2 percent, as of Monday) have already cast a ballot, either by mail or through in-person early voting. That number is close to approaching the total turnout from 2016, which was 77.3 percent.
"Voter enthusiasm is extremely high," says Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner, "and we're going into election day with a historic pre-election turnout."
Those early ballots are already being counted. Florida law allows elections officials to begin tabulating vote-by-mail ballots as early as 22 days before election day. In-person early voting, meanwhile, ended Sunday, Nov. 1, and the results from those machines have been recorded. All of those unofficial results will be made public as soon as possible after voting ends on Tuesday.
But while we will know a lot about how Sarasota County voted early on Tuesday evening, Turner cautions patience.
Vote-by-mail ballots, for example, can be delivered to one of the three Sarasota County supervisor of elections' offices all the way up until 7 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, and ballots delivered right before the deadline will still need to be counted before being included in the county's results. (By the way: If you can't deliver your vote-by-mail ballot to an elections office, you may take it with you to your election day polling location, where you can surrender the vote-by-mail ballot and instead vote in person.)
And, of course, plenty of people will still be voting in person on election day at 99 different polling locations around the county. (You can find your polling location with this online tool.) In-person voting is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and as long as you are in line by the 7 p.m. deadline, you are entitled to vote, whether it takes five minutes or five hours to cast a ballot.
Only after the last ballot is cast will elections workers tabulate the results from their machines and securely communicate those numbers to Turner's office. "Hopefully, if all goes well on election evening, we'll get those within a couple of hours," says Turner.
But even then, Turner emphasizes, the election isn't over. Florida law allows for vote-by-mail ballots sent by eligible voters who are in other countries and members of the military to be accepted by elections officials for 10 days after election day, as long as the ballot was postmarked by election day. These "overseas" ballots played a dramatic role in the 2000 Florida recount.
Another reminder: The results we hear about on Tuesday—or even later—remain unofficial until the Sarasota County Canvassing Board meets, in public, to finalize the results. The board, which is made up of Turner, a Sarasota County judge and the chair of the Sarasota County Commission, will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, to review any ballots with potential problems, and then will meet again at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, to review any overseas or military ballots that arrived after election day. This is protocol for every election; the meetings are open to the public and are often attended by campaign representatives and party officials. "It's very transparent," Turner says.
For elections officials like Turner and his staff, voting season has been both demanding and rewarding. "We love our voters in Sarasota County, and we work really hard to make sure they have a positive experience," Turner says. "We're working seven days a week, around the clock, to make that happen."