DEFUNAK SPRINGS — So maybe, but just maybe, call it a “blue drip.”
A projected nationwide “blue wave” of Democratic votes that had in some quarters been expected to sweep Joe Biden, a former vice president and U.S. senator, into the White House against incumbent Republican President Donald Trump failed to materialize Tuesday, as tallying of election results continued into Wednesday.
Nonetheless, there were some indications in Northwest Florida balloting, depending on how the tea leaves are read, that Democrats might be making some inroads into the solidly red Republican electorate.
Although small, increases in the percentage of Democratic balloting in this year’s presidential contest across the area — as compared to 2016, when Trump faced Democrat Hillary Clinton — were nonetheless notable, as reflected in data gathered nationwide by The Associated Press.
In Walton County on Tuesday, Biden captured 23.9% of the ballots cast, or 10,333 votes, while Trump claimed 76.1%, or 32,924 votes.
Compare that to 2016 presidential balloting in Walton County, when Clinton earned 6,861 votes, according to The Associated Press data, or 21.1% percent, while Trump earned 25,695 votes, or 78.9% .
The numbers show an almost 3% percent jump in Democratic presidential balloting in Walton County between 2016 and 2020. And the data tell a similar story for other Panhandle counties.
In Okaloosa County on Tuesday, 34,165 votes went to Biden, or 29.33% of the 116,485 ballots cast in the contest. That’s a 6.04% jump from 2016, when 23.29% of the 102,096 votes cast in the presidential race went to Clinton.
Elsewhere in the area, according to The Associated Press data, Democratic balloting in the 2020 presidential contest in Escambia County was up 3 percent from 2016, at 42.3% as compared to 39.3%.
In Santa Rosa County, there was a 4.3% increase, from 22% to 26.3%, and in Bay County, the increase was 2%, up to 27.9% from 25.9% in 2016.
In Okaloosa County, Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux noted the Democratic Party’s push for mail-in voting was at least a partial potential explanation for the uptick.
But he also cautioned against drawing specific conclusions as to what might have caused the increase and what it might mean.
“The Democratic Party pushed really hard for vote by mail,” Lux said.
But he noted that Republicans mounted a similar push, even in the face of some GOP criticism of mail-in voting. And in the end, Lux said, more Republicans than Democrats used mail-in voting in Okaloosa County.
The statistics regarding increased balloting on the Democratic side of the presidential ticket also be reflective of nothing more than an increase in the county’s voting population or of disaffected Republicans who cast votes for Biden, Lux suggested.
And even if there was increased Democratic participation in Okaloosa County, he said, there’s at least one statistical indication in Tuesday’s election results that hint Biden didn’t get all of the Democratic votes he could have received.
In presidential balloting, Biden got 34,165 votes. But in the race for the state’s District 1 seat in Congress, which includes all of Okaloosa County, Democratic contender Phil Ehr — who lost to incumbent Republican Matt Gaetz — received 34,891 votes, or 726 more than Biden.
In the end, Lux said there are simply too many variables to speak definitively in terms of what the uptick in presidential balloting on the Democratic side of the ticket might represent.
In the eyes of Walton County Supervisor of Elections Bobby Beasley, there are likely a couple of reasons for the uptick in Democratic balloting from 2016 to 2020, at least in his county.
Most immediately, Beasley said, was the high rate of return of mail-in ballots. Of the 3,925 mail-in ballots requested by Democrats, 3,439 were returned, a rate of 87.6 percent. But Beasley also noted that return rates were high for Republicans, with 89.2% of the 6,955 requested mail-in ballots being returned, and with request from other parties at an 87% return rate.
Beasley added that demographic changes in the county, where the population jumped from 55,046 in 2010 to 74,071 as of 2019, also likely played a role. Demographic changes also came to Walton County in the wake of 2018’s Hurricane Michael, Beasley noted, as people displaced from Bay County and other areas devastated by the storm have resettled in Walton.
As a result of both of those factors, Beasley said the county “picked up nearly 8,000 voters between 2018 and 2020.”
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