Early voting in Manatee starts Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know to make it easier

Early voting begins Wednesday in Manatee County and will last until Nov. 3, just three days before the hustle and bustle of the Nov. 6 election. With a strong turnout expected, Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said it’s best to be vote early, or at least be prepared come election day.

“There is definitely, definitely concerns about lines on election day,” Bennett said. “I would certainly want voters to consider early voting or vote-by-mail because this particular ballot has so many questions and I can’t emphasize enough that my people are not allowed to even attempt an explanation.”

Bennett said for voters who prefer to wait until election day, there are some ways to speed up the process given the lengthy ballot, which includes 12 proposed state constitutional amendments.

“Study the vote-by-mail ballot or the sample ballot,” Bennett said. “Mark up your sample ballot and bring it with them to the polls. It will be a whole lot easier because again, we are very concerned about the potential for long lines, so my advice is to get your voting done before election day.”

Early voting hours will be from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. daily. Unlike on election day when voters are required to cast their ballots at designated polling stations, early voters can choose any of the five available locations. This year’s early voting locations are:

  • Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

  • Manatee County utilities administration officers, 4410 66th St. W.

  • Palmetto Library, 923 Sixth St. W.

  • Rocky Bluff Library, 6750 U.S. Hwy. 301.

  • Supervisor of Elections Office, 600 301 Blvd. W.

Voters must bring a valid and current photo and signature ID to cast a ballot.

Vote-by-mail ballots can still be requested until 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 and must be received at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 6. Mail-in ballots can be obtained through an online application on the supervisor of elections’ website, or in writing by email, fax or mail at the office or by telephone.

Mail-in ballots must be received at the elections office. Mail-in ballots will not be accepted at polling stations. There’s been some concerns raised in national news about the accuracy of counting all mail-in votes, but your ballot can be tracked by visiting votemanatee.com.

A federal judge, in September, ordered all elections offices in Florida to have sample ballots written in both English and Spanish and despite the added burden to election supervisors preparing for the Nov. 6 election, those sample ballots are available on the election offices’ website.

Bennett said his office has received about 30,000 mail-in ballots, but 80,000 were mailed out. It’s not untypical, he said, noting there tends to be a late surge in mail-in votes to arrive close to the election.

“I think people are waiting longer because they want to see what else could happen before they mail in their ballot,” Bennett said. “I’ll say that I expect about an 80 percent turnout at the end of the day in vote-by-mail ballots but we are a long way from it right now.”

Voter registrations surge

Voter registration ended two weeks ago and registrations in all parties saw increases, but no one party outpaced the other by much.

The latest numbers as of this month in Manatee County saw a total of 245,510 voters register compared to the 2016 presidential cycle — which tends to see more voters register — which saw 233,031 registered voters. In the last midterm cycle in 2014, there were 215,318 registered voters.

Registered Republicans for this election stands at 106,048 while Democrats have registered a total of 74,924. Also, 61,630 registered voters have no party affiliation.

Republicans have seen a jump from 2016 when there were 101,219 registered voters, but Democrats saw a modest increase when there were 71,924 in the same year.

Republicans, Democrats and NPA’s have all seen increases since the 2014 midterms when there were 90,901 Republicans, 68,630 Democrats and 50,083 NPAs.

But it’s not always about the number of registered voters. It’s about the number who vote.

Manatee County turnout tends to be stronger than the national average regardless of whether it is a presidential cycle or midterm election.

The national average in the 2014 midterm for voter turnout was 36.4 percent compared to Manatee County’s average of 56.96 percent. The county drew an impressive 78.85 percent for the 2016 general election compared to the national average of 58 percent.

“I predict that Manatee County will, once again, have one of the highest turnouts in the state,” Bennett said. “Manatee County voters vote and I’m so proud of them. They take it serious.”