More Democrats than Republicans in Florida have been sent mail ballots for the November election — a trend that Democrats say is historic and a result of better outreach to Hispanic voters.
As of Friday, the Division of Elections reports that 2.7 million voters have been sent mail ballots. That total includes about 68,000 more Democrats than Republicans –a departure from recent Florida elections.
State figures show mail ballots that have been provided.
Florida Democratic Party executive director Juan Penalosa said the state's rolling daily numbers don't include all mail ballot requests submitted to 67 counties. Those numbers are higher, he said.
Osceola County, south of Orlando, is one focus of the Democrats' efforts to increase voting by mail. The state web site says more than 52,000 mail ballots have been sent to Osceola voters, including more than 24,000 Democrats and more than 14,000 Republicans.
That's a significant increase over the last midterm election four years ago, when about 37,000 Osceola voters received mail ballots, including 18,000 Democrats and 10,000 Republicans.
The Republican Party of Florida discounted the possibility of Democratic gains among Hispanic voters and emphasized that what matters is how many of those ballots are filled out and returned.
"For the past three election cycles, Democrats have been consistently pushing their Election Day and early voters to request absentee ballots," party chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in an email. "They are not creating new Democratic Hispanic voters. All they are doing is shifting when they vote."
Ingoglia said that Republicans traditionally prefer to vote on Election Day. He also said more GOP voters usually return their mail ballots than do the Democrats.
Osceola has a growing population of Puerto Rican voters, who often lean Democratic. Osceola's turnout in the Aug. 28 turnout was low at 20.6 percent, far below the statewide average of 27.5 percent.
"We believe that life gets in the way of voting sometimes," Penalosa said, "which is why we're involved heavily in vote-by-mail strategies in these counties. We believe people will vote if they have a lot more time to vote."
Democrats say they invested in technology to buy cell phone numbers to send text messages to newly-arriving Hispanic voters in Florida.
The Osceola County elections office says the two groups registering the most new voters there are Mi Familia Vota and the Hispanic Federation.
"We see them several times a week," elections spokeswoman Kari Ewalt said.
Polls in Florida show very close races for governor and U.S. Senate, and both parties are focusing on their ground game of generating higher-than-usual voter turnout in a state with a long history of sluggish turnouts in midterm elections.
Shipments of mail ballots began Tuesday, and early voting in most larger counties will begin on Oct. 22, and in all 67 counties by Oct. 27.