More Democrats vote in county primary this year than in 2016
Voter participation in Sarasota County did decline markedly overall from the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary to the 2020 election on March 17, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office data show.
However, even with the field of Democratic candidates for president having been winnowed, more county Democrats cast ballots in the primary than they did in 2016. The total this year was 50,932, according to the unofficial results the Supervisor of Elections Office posted after the polls closed. In 2016, the number was 42,380.
The elections office website showed 103,044 registered Democrats as of March 17, compared to 137,431 registered Republicans and 85,204 with no party affiliation. Only those registered as Democrats and Republicans could participate in the primary, as a result of a state law.
Overall turnout this year was 38.16%, the unofficial results show. Out of 240,681 registered voters, 91,832 cast ballots, compared to the 116,277 in the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary. That year, voter turnout was 54.79%, with registered voters participating in choosing both Republican and Democratic candidates. The total number of registered voters for the 2016 primary was 212,205
As he did statewide, according to unofficial election results, former Vice President Joe Biden carried Sarasota County, taking 61.97% of the ballots cast in the Democratic Primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders garnered 18.68% of the votes, while former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had 10.84%.
Although only Biden and Sanders remain in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner has explained that the ballots were printed months ago, before candidates began suspending their campaigns.
Steve Contorno reported in the Tampa Bay Times on the morning of March 18 that, with 99% of precincts reporting statewide, Biden led Sanders 61% to 23%. Later, with all precincts reporting, the Associated Press said Biden ended up with 61.9% of the total state vote, compared to 22.28% for Biden and 8.4% for Bloomberg.
Contorno noted that the contest was “marked by the complete absence of traditional retail politics [with] the coronavirus [keeping] both candidates from stepping foot in the Sunshine State in the days leading up to the primary.”
Supervisor of Elections Turner alluded to the COVID-19 situation in comments he provided The Sarasota News Leader on March 18. “Under the circumstances,” he wrote in an email, “the election went smoothly. Sarasota County’s presidential preference primary turnout was the second highest in Florida among counties our size or larger. I want to personally thank the voters, elections staff, poll workers and volunteers from the community who came together to make this election work.”
As in 2016, President Donald Trump won the Republican Primary this week in Sarasota County, taking 92.31% of the votes. Of the other three candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld garnered 4.22% of the votes cast.
In 2016, Trump won the Republican Primary in Sarasota County with 47.3% of the total. He was one of 13 candidates on the ballot then. Altogether, 73,189 Sarasota County Republicans participated in that primary.
In a much smaller field of Democratic candidates in 2016, Hillary Clinton took 61.12% of the votes, with Bernie Sanders coming in second at 37.28% and Martin O’Malley receiving 1.61% of the 42,380 votes.
This year, two bond referenda for the Town of Longboat Key also were on the Sarasota County ballot for citizens of that municipality. Additionally, the Holiday Park Park and Recreation District had an election for its board of trustees, but that also was limited to specific voters.
In the Longboat referenda, a total of 1,093 ballots were cast on one question; 638, on the other.
Only 280 people cast ballots in the Holiday Park Park and Recreation District election, unofficial results show.
In response to News Leader questions, Rachel Denton, communications and voter outreach manager for the county’s Supervisor of Elections Office, provided the following figures for early voting and vote-by-mail voting, for comparison:
- March 17, 2020 Presidential Preference Primary, Holiday Park Park and Recreation District, and Town of Longboat Key Bond Referendum: early voting total — 15,011; vote-by-mail ballots returned and accepted — 51,604.
- March 15, 2016 Presidential Preference Primary, Longboat Key Referendum, Holiday Park Park and Recreation District: early voting total — 18,082; vote-by-mail ballots returned and accepted — 37,014.