By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Sept. 27, 2010…….If votes in last month’s primaries had been cast only on Election Day, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink might be facing Attorney General Bill McCollum instead of Rick Scott.
That’s what Sink is reminding her supporters now to motivate them to vote early with absentee ballots already being mailed out and in-person early voting set to begin three weeks from Monday.
“Rick Scott lost on the Primary Election Day,” Sink’s campaign manager Jim Cassady said in an E-mail to supporters last week. “He won early on largely because of Vote by Mail. Yes, Vote by Mail is that important.”
With elections in Florida now hinging so much on what voters do prior to the actual election – 45 percent of votes cast in the Republican Primary came in before Election Day – campaigns are having to change the way they work to turn out voters. Election officials said that 695,281 of the 2.4 million voters in the primary cast their ballots by mail, and 363,520 voted in-person early.
“The get-out-the-vote is now started five days before voters get their ballots,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas . “On the GOP side, people respond to absentee voting within 24 hours, so you’ve got to make sure they get your message right away, because if they get it a week later, it doesn’t matter. They’ve already voted.”
“It’s a new challenge to elections in Florida,” Cardenas said.
For candidates, the calendar changes. The old saw about the only poll that matters being the one on Election Day is no longer true. Ask McCollum.
Polls showed him leading going into Election Day – and they might have been accurate. Who wasn’t accounted for? People who had already voted – the particularly motivated.
“I know Rick Scott was up in the polls considerably over me two or three weeks before the balloting, so I would surmise…that he probably had a pretty hefty margin in the early voting and the absentees,” McCollum said not long after the election.
“We looked like we were up in the polls,” he said back in August. But, “we have early voting in the state, we had absentee ballots.”
David Johnson, a longtime GOP consultant and former party executive director, agreed. Johnson said vote-by-mail appeals like Sink’s are going to be more common this fall in both statewide and down ballot races.
“I requested an absentee ballot and since, I’ve gotten seven pieces of (campaign) mail,” Johnson told the News Service of Florida Monday. “(Campaigns) know I have it, it’s a public record. When I vote, they can mark me off the list. This is technology we’ve only had for the last two or three cycles. Now you can have absolute targeting.”
With less than three weeks left before in-person early voting begins – Sink and Scott’s campaigns have seemingly ramped up their television advertising. Johnson said that with absentee and early voting so prevalent now, they doin’t have a choice.
“That’s what good campaigns are going to be doing,” he said. “If you’re starting to move in the polls later, in the past it was always ‘you’ve got momentum going toward Election Day.’ Now you have to spend money on messaging earlier because if you wait, you miss one-and-a-half million people who will have already gotten ballots.”
Absentee ballots began being mailed out this month and early voting begins Oct. 18.