Florida, once a state that decided the presidency by 537 votes, could look solid red after Tuesday’s election.
Running for re-election are Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is considered a top candidate for the White House in 2024, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who had a failed 2016 presidential run and is now seeking his third term.
DeSantis is facing Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor from 2007-2011 who left his seat as a Democratic U.S. representative after winning August’s primary. Rubio faces Democratic Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief who built a national name with a prominent role in then-President Donald Trump’s impeachment and for being on President Joe Biden’s list of possible running mates.
Polls have shown both incumbents with sizeable leads.
Florida could also play a role in the battle for power in the U.S. House, with a new congressional seat after the 2020 census and new political maps that greatly favor Republicans.
Republicans could also sweep the three Cabinet positions on the ballot. Incumbents Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are facing lesser-known former State Attorney Aramis Ayala and former state Rep. Adam Hattersley, both of whom have had trouble raising money.
Likewise, Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson is considered a heavy favorite to beat Democratic nominee Naomi Esther Blemur for the agriculture commissioner seat being vacated by Democrat Nikki Fried.
Florida voters are also being asked to abolish the Constitutional Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to recommend changes to the state constitution, as well as approve two property tax breaks.
While Democrats have had a decades-long advantage in voter registration numbers and Florida has been considered a swing state in presidential elections, those days appear gone.
DeSantis beat Democrat Andrew Gillum four years ago by 32,436 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast, a margin so narrow that it required a recount.
But in the four years since, Republicans have erased the Democrats’ 263,000-voter registration advantage. As of Sept. 30, Republicans had a lead of 292,533 voters — a swing of nearly 556,000 registered voters over DeSantis’ first term.
There are 14.5 million registered voters overall.
Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:
Polls close at 7 p.m. local time. Most of the state is in the Eastern Time Zone but parts of the Panhandle are in the Central Time Zone, meaning polls close there at 8 p.m. ET.
HOW FLORIDA VOTES
Florida voters increasingly vote ahead of Election Day, either by mail or in person at early voting locations. In 2020, 83% of more than 11 million ballots cast were by mail or during early voting. Turnout for 2022’s midterm is not expected to be as high but the trend toward early and absentee voting will hold.
In 2020, the AP reported 90% of the vote by just after 9 p.m. ET.
Hurricane Ian’s landfall and devastation no doubt will slow voting processes in the Fort Myers area, though voting restrictions have been eased for affected residents. The area represents about 7% of statewide voters.
Where Florida historically has been split evenly across Democratic and GOP, polls this cycle tend to favor GOP candidates for statewide office. The Interstate 4 corridor from Volusia to Hillsborough counties will be important to watch during early returns, as that string of counties are demographically and politically representative of the state. A win on election night for statewide office will need a strong performance here.
The AP is tabulating 130 contested races in Florida: U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, agriculture commissioner, state attorney, three amendments and state Legislature.
On election night, per state law, early and absentee votes are included in most county election supervisors’ first results posted after poll closing.
No statewide races will be called by AP ahead of the 8 p.m. EDT poll closing in the Panhandle.
The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome.
The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2% or if the leading candidate is within 2% of the 50% runoff threshold. The AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.
Q: WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE PRIMARY?
A: Florida voters still have enthusiasm for early and absentee voting, especially by mail. And we learned that what has been statistically a premier swing state likely now leans GOP in statewide races.
Q: WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THE PANDEMIC ELECTION OF 2020?
A: More GOP voters have registered to vote than Democrats, giving Republicans a clear advantage in registered voters.
Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?
A: More than 1.6 million votes had been cast as of Oct. 26 with an expectation of close to 9 million votes to be counted statewide, based on past elections.
Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?
A: First results will appear by 7:05 p.m. ET and 100% is expected later that night or the next day.
Q: WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS WITH EARLY RETURNS?
A: There will be a wave of millions of returns in hand by election night and they will be released early. Though trends can be seen, it might take time for possible complications to emerge.
Q: WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
A: Because of redistricting, some districts may have more than one incumbent, while others may have none.
Also, amendments require 60% or more of the vote to pass.