Tuesday’s election turnout in Lee County was one for the record books and it marked at least one very important milestone as well: Early voting has come into its own.
Voters braved long lines and a-seasonable weather to flock to the county’s five early polling sites in droves this year. All told, 64,424 voters cast ballots in the two weeks before Election Day.
Even more obtained mail-in ballots and voted at their leisure; 79,602 ballots were cast this way.
That means more people voted early, or at least obtained their ballots early, than actually voted Tuesday, contributing to the remarkable 85 percent turnout.
If you don’t think this is a sea change, consider: Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes, who won his re-election bid, prevailed in the primary race against Mayor Eric Feichthaler and Gerard David Jr. primarily due to early and mail-in ballots.
Early voters do have the ability to impact an election, and we’re just getting an idea of how much.
Expect to see some changes — and to demand some.
On the expectations side, expect campaign crescendos to peak earlier. We expect voters will still see a pre-election day blitz but expect it to start with early voting and to come in waves as election day nears. This approach was readily noticeable in the presidential races this year. Expect it to trickle down and become much more apparent in the local races.
Expect forums, debates and meet-and-greets to be held with early voters in mind. Here in the Cape, the various clubs and organizations have a set pattern of pacing right up to the election. New voting patterns are likely to change that structure. And change it should. Voters will want more information early and we, as a community, should meet this need.
Most media outlets have already shaken up pre-election coverage by timing election guides, informational stories and advisories to early voting. Look for these earlier — and plan to hang onto them if you are a traditional voter.
One last expectation: Expect local candidates to cry harder for single-member districts. As challengers try to figure out how to reach both early voters and election day ballot casters, money may become a primary concern for those with little name recognition or the ability to excite enough donations for an expanded blitz.
We don’t see the divide-and-conquer approach as one that will actually provide for better governance locally. Watch for single-member district proposals to proliferate nonetheless.
On the demand side, early voters should demand a change in how elections are held. We learned a couple of things this go-around: Five early voting sites in a county as large as Lee may work for most elections but five is not sufficient for a major one. Days and hours may well have to be extended as they were this year by Gov. Charlie Crist toward the end of early voting.
We look forward to this being addressed at both the state and local level. And we urge voters to watch this issue carefully as we should do all we can to maintain high turnouts.
We thank those of you who voted; Election ‘08 certainly is one for the record books.
May those elected live up to the faith and expectations the voters have shown.
— Breeze editorial