On March 2, Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent expressed some concern about the weak start to early voting in the city’s municipal elections. A week later, following the end of early voting Saturday, Dent’s outlook is sunnier.
According to the Supervisor of Elections office, just 595 early votes were cast in District 2 and District 3, the two districts electing a representative to the Sarasota City Commission this year. Those numbers fall well short of the early voting numbers in previous elections — but are counterbalanced by strong absentee ballot returns, Dent said.
More than 3,000 absentee ballots have been cast in the city, Dent said, giving the commission race about 13% voter turnout before Election Day. Normally, she said, voter turnout is around 7% at this point in the election — and as a result, she was optimistic that the overall turnout would be higher than average for the city.
Even if the city sees a relatively high turnout, it’s likely to fall short of the average turnout in Sarasota’s other municipalities.
Historically, voter turnout falls between 16% and 20% in the spring municipal elections in Sarasota. This year, Dent said she anticipated that figure could be closer to 23%. Still, even if the city sees a relatively high turnout, it’s likely to fall short of the average turnout in Sarasota’s other municipalities — a recurring phenomenon with origins Dent couldn’t ascertain.
“I’m not sure what it is in the city of Sarasota,” she said.
In 2013, a year in which three at-large, city-wide seats were up for election, 1,541 residents voted early. In 2011, the last year in which the district seats were contested, 1,062 voters cast their ballots early — 904 of which lived in District 2 or District 3. Absentee voting has been on the rise in the city: 3,857 absentee votes were cast in 2013, and 1,073 voters sent absentee ballots in 2011.