The Tale of Two Counties and Voter Turnout in 2012

Mar 8, 2013

Credit Tom Stovall / Flickr / Creative Commons

Two neighboring Southwest Florida counties saw both the largest jump in voter turnout from one presidential election to the next—as well as the most dramatic decrease.

During the 2008 presidential election, Collier County had a below average voter turnout. Just to the north in Lee County, there was the second highest turnout in the entire state.

In the span of four years, though, those counties practically switched places.

By the next presidential election, Collier County’s voter turnout jumped by 12 percent. But, Lee County’s turnout was almost 17 percent lower than in 2008.

It was the biggest voter-turnout decrease in all of Florida.

Collier County’s Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said that she thinks the jump there had a lot to do with the excitement people during the election.

“So it was a combination of local grassroots efforts and I can say that the parties worked really hard--both the Republican and Democratic parties to get their voters out to vote,” Edwards said.

Florida was at the center of a big political battle—and both parties ran significant get out the vote efforts. But, that explanation doesn’t account for Lee County’s record-breaking low turnout.

Sharon Harrington, Lee County supervisor of elections, said first it’s important to understand the differences between the two counties.

“Lee County is a lot larger,” Edwards said. “We have a lot more precincts, a lot more voters, than what Collier has.”

Also, Harrington said, in the time between 2008 and 2012 the state’s election rules were changed. It made voting in big counties like Lee—as well as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach—much harder.

“I think a lot of it had to do with the long lines that frightened people not just on Election Day itself, but during early voting,” Harrington said.

Harrington said the 2011 law—which cut early voting days throughout the state created unprecedentedly long lines in big cities. She also points her finger at a historically-long ballot and not enough voting equipment.

Harrington says she is relieved the Florida House of Representatives passed a law this week that basically undoes all the changes made by the 2011 law.

She says the bill doesn’t fix all the voting problems, but it it’s a step in the right direction.