While Democrats on the national level celebrated keeping control of the U.S. Senate and not losing as many seats as expected in the U.S. House, Democrats in Volusia County had little to celebrate. Republicans swept the local elections, from the top of the ticket to the smallest city races.
The local red tide swept out candidates who weren’t listed on the Republican slate cards, including knocking out incumbent District 1 County Council Member Barb Girtman, who lost to a challenger who campaigned very little and didn’t take a single monetary contribution.
Girtman, who was taking the pulse of voters daily on the campaign trail, wasn’t necessarily surprised by the result.
“I knew from the very beginning that this race was going to be about who showed up,” Girtman said.
And Republican voters showed up.
In the 26 races with a registered Democratic candidate across Volusia County’s state and local races, only seven Democrats won their election. That includes two races, Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 5, and Orange City Council District 2, that pitted two Democrats against each other.
While the election numbers are still unofficial, preliminary results indicate that voter turnout of registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 40,500.
“It was radically higher. We cannot believe how many more Republicans voted,” Volusia County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Jewel Dickson said of the turnout numbers. “If it was reversed and you were a Republican, you would be crying conspiracy. But, we’re Democrats.”
Dickson said the local Democratic groups will be working overtime on digging into the data, and altering their strategies going forward to register voters and get the message out.
Although all the parties have added members, the gap has widened. In 2022, Republicans accounted for 38.6 percent of all registered Volusia County voters, and Democrats 30.4 percent, as compared to 35.7 percent versus 34.1 percent in 2018.
But voter turnout was the real problem, Dickson said, despite reaching out to all registered Democratic voters in Volusia County by text, email or phone call not once, but twice, for the primary and general elections.
Democrats had about 53.61-percent turnout, while Republicans had a turnout rate of about 67.37 percent. Including those voters registered with no party affiliation, which is nearly one-third of all voters, the total turnout in Volusia County was around 55 percent.
“Our candidates were beaten because of the sheer numbers, because we had really great candidates — Barb Girtman, Danny Fuqua, Al Bouie — but when you have so many more thousands show up … .” Dickson said, trailing off. “There was not a lot of support — we’re not sure why there was a lack of support, whether it was state Democratic leadership or the DNC.”
Republicans were happy.
“I am 95 to 98 percent pleased,” Volusia County Republican Executive Committee Chair Paul Deering said.
Deering chalks the results up to three reasons: great candidates, hard work from volunteers getting voters registered, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Perhaps not the difference on a local level, but on the state and federal level, coattails are in effect, and Ron DeSantis has great coattails,” Deering said. “The results speak for themselves.”
Elections supervisor: Few problems at polls
Of Volusia County’s 412,286 active registered voters, 55.04 percent turned out for the general election. All in all, Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis was sad that turnout wasn’t higher, but 55 percent isn’t too shabby, she said.“We always hope for more,” Lewis said, “but 55 percent is not bad.”
Whether you like them or not, mail ballots are here to stay, she said.
Of the more than 226,000 ballots cast, 93,000 — nearly half — were mail ballots. Another 58,000 ballots were cast in-person during early voting, and approximately 75,000 voters cast their ballots on Election Day. In 2020, 143,000 mail ballots were returned to the Elections Office in Volusia County.
Thanks to recent laws passed by the Florida Legislature, requesting a mail ballot did require additional personal information than was required in 2020, but that didn’t deter voters.
There were also some hiccups on Election Day, but nothing major, Lewis said.
Eight precincts had trouble reporting data back to the Elections Office, and elections staff had to travel to two Deltona precincts to manually load data onto secure flash drives. But all of these issues were user errors, Lewis said, and not mechanical problems.
“I think poll workers are tired,” she said. “It’s a long day, especially when it gets rainy and people are cranky and want to get in their vote.”
And while Elections Office staff had to travel to several precincts during the August primaries this year due to campaign volunteers getting in voters’ faces and causing trouble, there were far fewer incidents in the general election, Lewis said. While she had to make a few phone calls to party officials to ask them to speak with overzealous volunteers, Election Day largely went off without a hitch.
“There’s some supporters who are very passionate about who they support. If someone’s walking in and they’re getting a little upset and they won’t take their literature, they make it known,” Lewis said. “Everybody should be able to come to the polls without fear of having to say, ‘No, I don’t want your literature.’”