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Florida Matters: Getting Ready For A Pandemic Election

Mary Shedden
WUSF Public Media

We're getting ready to have our first big election in Florida since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state in March.

How will that affect the number of people who go to the polls? And will there be a "Blue Wave" in store for Democrats?

On this episode of Florida Matters, we get an election preview with Tampa Bay area political reporter and columnist William March. WUSF's Steve Newborn spoke to him via Zoom.

Here's a portion of the conversation between Steve Newborn and William March:

Obviously, this will be the first major election held in Florida during the pandemic. And there are a lot of questions about how well it's going to go. A lot of questions about whether there will be enough poll workers, whether the pandemic will cut turnout, a lot of those kinds of questions.

This is kind of like a dry run. I'd imagine for November, we're going to see what kind of quirks are out there. What kind of problems, how many people actually bother showing up to the polls. So I guess a lot is at stake in this primary, maybe more than most primaries?

Well, there's also a lot of pressure on county election supervisors, they're having to try to put this whole thing together. And quite simply, nobody's ever done it before. They don't have a marked path.

Another big issue is the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a lower court ruling that basically prevents an overturn of the state law that said that ex-felons had to pay all their restitution and fines before they can vote. Is that considered a big blow for Democrats?

William March
Credit William March
William March

That is, to some extent, a blow for Democrats. As to how much, nobody can really say. There was always a question as to how many - some people call them former felons, some call them returns citizens or returning citizens. There was always a major question as to how many of the hundreds of thousands of them there are in Florida would actually register and then actually go to the polls and vote. But a lot of people said that even if it was a small number in Florida elections that are often decided by a percentage point or less, it could have mattered.

The Democrats say they're on a roll. They obviously have a lot of ammunition here with the pandemic, the Trump administration's reaction to the pandemic, the tanking economy - which is really nobody's fault. What do you think about the Democrat’s chances to make up a lot of seats?

They have some momentum right now. If there were a substantial “blue wave,” and you may recall, we had a blue wave in the 2018 election that affected a lot of down ballot races - though not the top of the ticket races. If we have another wave like that or even bigger, then Democrats could conceivably come close to parity with Republicans in the state Senate. In the state House, they can hold their own, possibly gain a seat or two. We're talking here about if there's a blue wave comparable to 2018.

If a blue wave was big enough, they could also pick off a couple of Tampa Bay area Congressional seats, one in Hillsborough County, East Hillsborough, Lakeland and Clermont - the seat now held by Republican Ross Spano; and one extending from Sarasota through Manatee County and into Hillsborough held by Vern Buchanan, a Republican being challenged by Democrat Margaret Good. Now, there would have to be a pretty significant blue wave for either of those seats to flip. But there is increasing evidence that they are on a roll and that they do have some momentum. There is a new poll out. It shows a major drop in approval ratings for Gov. Ron DeSantis, and it shows a major increase in Joe Biden's lead over Donald Trump in Florida.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.