Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer is concerned that low early voter turnout might have a big impact on voting lines on Election Day.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Historically speaking, midterm elections in the United States end up with lower voter turnout. It’s a phenomenon multiple organizations have studied. For the 2022 midterm election, Florida’s early voting and vote-by-mail has dropped, in some areas by 50% or more.

Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that voter data from the U.S. has shown drop-offs in the midterms since the 1840s. Put simply, the data shows ‘when the presidency’s not at stake, fewer voters turn out.”

Similarly, another research organization, Gallup, reported enthusiasm about the midterm election has fallen since 2018, when Americans turned out in record highs to vote. Looking forward, multiple factors are in play for how the 2022 midterms are building up. Gallup said turnout this year “still does not reach what Gallup measured in the 2020 presidential election year, during the coronavirus pandemic and before COVID-19 vaccines were available.”

Not only is 2022 a midterm, which history shows typically has a reduced voter participation, it’s also the first major election after the COVID-19 pandemic changed national voting habits. The 2020 election saw big changes in vote-by-mail use and early voting as municipalities and Americans worked to stay healthy from the virus as well as exercise their political power.

For Florida, the return to more familiar norms has shown a drop in voters using early voting options, as well as mail-in ballots, after big increases during COVID. Preliminary numbers reported by the Florida Department of State, which tracks and supervises elections, shows the state voter participation so far for early voting is nearly 40% lower than in 2020.

Similarly, vote-by-mail participation is also down, though to a greater degree, approaching a 50% drop compared to the 2020 presidential election.

For Tampa Bay counties, some areas saw even bigger changes to voter participation.

Location2018 EV2018 VBM2020 EV2020 VBM2022 EV2022 VBM% Change 2020 to 2022 EV% Change 2020 to 2022 VBM
Florida2,720,5052,623,7984,332,2214,855,6771,574,1292,313,133-37%-48%
Citrus20,18125,91033,58039,21915,92823,896-52%-39%
Hardee2,4839333,9871,6561,598613-59%-63%
Hernando17,13733,82637,42947,33113,14025,968-65%-45%
Highlands12,63911,66720,69119,6268,83210,719-57%-45%
Hillsborough172,818187,442272,109337,24984,567163,384-69%-51%
Manatee34,56769,04772,473105,14125,53763,046-65%-40%
Pasco56,63468,984114,179123,62937,30066,894-67%-46%
Pinellas54,988241,541112,201348,00028,905195,740-74%-44%
Polk54,41280,091120,081134,17632,56065,832-73%-51%
Sarasota58,90382,49488,729141,20339,55581,525-55%-42%
(Source: Florida Dept. of State, percentages calculated at WFLA)

With a U.S. Senate seat, three ballot amendments, and a governor’s race all in the balance, some elections supervisors in the area are concerned about turnout.

“Frankly, I’m a little disappointed with turnout so far, so I am working to make sure voters know about the convenience of Early Voting,” Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer said in a statement on Oct. 31.

The release from the county election office reported lower turnout than the previous midterm. Latimer also said he was concerned about long lines to vote on Election Day due to the lower participation before Nov. 8.

The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, Ron Turner, urged early voting participation for similar reasons.

“Due to the length of the multi-page November 8 ballot and expected high turnout for this election, voters should strongly consider their voting options to help reduce potential Election Day wait times,” Turner said in a statement on Oct. 31. “As a convenience to voters, we are offering more locations for early voting than ever before. I ask voters to help ensure a smooth Election Day by voting early in person whenever possible.”

State law mandates that early voting end two days before an election, meaning it’s over on Sunday. After that, if you’re voting in person, you’ll need to find your polling station and get in line.

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