How Negron’s aggressive absentee ballot campaign clinched Senate seat before election dayby George Bennett | August 5th, 2009
Not Republican Joe Negron, who capitalized on absentee and early voting on his way to a landslide victory in Tuesday’s special state Senate election.
Before the polls even opened Tuesday morning in Senate District 28, Negron had locked up 20,273 absentee ballots and 1,682 early votes for his race against Democrat Bill Ramos.
That’s more than twice as many votes as Ramos got for the entire election, according to unofficial returns.
In other words, the 11,584 people who cast ballots for Negron at their precincts on Tuesday’s traditional election day could have stayed home and their candidate still would have won by a fat margin.
Negron ended up with 76.5 percent to Ramos’ 23.4 percent. Write-in candidate Josue Larose got 0.1 percent.
The pre-election ballot deluge for Negron didn’t happen by accident. Negron, who raised nearly $500,000 for the Senate race, used a direct-mail campaign to aggressively pursue absentee voters.
“The absentee ballot program was my No. 1 priority from Day One,” Negron said today.
“In my view, the trend among voters is early voting and absentee voting,” Negron said. “Secondly, in a special election in an off year in the middle of a summer in Florida, we knew the majority of votes would be cast before election day.”
Negron’s campaign sent a mail piece to frequent Republican voters that included a tear-off form to request an absentee ballot.
The campaign also got lists each day of voters who requested absentee ballots. These voters were targeted with not one but two “chase pieces” of mail, with the goal of having the Negron mailings arrive at the same time as the ballot.
If the voter didn’t return the ballot promptly, Negron’s campaign sent a follow-up piece. Phone calls were made to voters with outstanding absentee ballots, Negron said. And many voters with outstanding absentee ballots, particularly in St. Lucie County, received a knock on the door from a Negron campaign worker encouraging them to mail in their ballots.
Negron, a Stuart resident who served in the state House from 2000 to 2006, said he placed extra emphasis on St. Lucie County because he isn’t as well-known there as in Martin County.
Absentee and early voting have played a growing role in Florida elections over the last decade.
Up through the 1990s, a voter who wanted an absentee ballot had to give a reason — such as illness or being out of town — for the request. Early voting was one of several reforms instituted after Florida’s problem-plagued 2000 presidential election.
By last year’s presidential election, early and absentee voting had eclipsed traditional election-day voting in Florida. Only 45.4 percent of Florida votes were cast at precincts on Nov. 4. Nearly one-third of Floridians took advantage of early voting and 23 percent cast absentee ballots.
A 2007 law change allows a person who requests an absentee ballot to automatically receive absentee ballots for all elections over the next two years.
So in a summertime special election that many voters might not have known about, thousands of District 28 voters got a reminder in the form of an absentee ballot mailed to their homes.
In Palm Beach County, for example, the elections office automatically mailed 4,894 absentee ballots to District 28 voters. Another 1,288 absentee ballots were mailed to District 28 voters who specifically requested them.
Candidate / Absentee / Early / Election-day / TOTAL
Negron (R) / 20,273 / 1,682 / 11,584 / 33,539
Ramos (D) / 6,715 / 424 / 3,121 / 10,260