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What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

Understanding Florida's Elections Results

Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media

While some states can't even begin to start counting mailed-in ballots until Election Day, Florida has been doing it for weeks. That means there will be a lot of results in by Tuesday night — but they won't be official yet.

Voters may be eager to know who wins Tuesday's elections. But with the increase in mail-in ballots this year, there may not be answers right away.

WUSF's Stephanie Colombini talked with Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and President of the Florida Supervisors of Elections about how to understand the results as they come in.

One thing you normally hear a lot of on election night is, you know, “So-and-so's winning with 60 percent of precincts reporting.” What exactly is a precinct and how do early and mail-in votes factor into that?

A precinct is a geographical district. And it's usually not a large one, because, you know, you might live two blocks from me, but because of where the congressional split is, or the state House or the state Senate, you have one set of representatives you're voting for, I have a different set of representatives. So that's what distinguishes the precincts and how votes are ultimately tabulated and counted at precinct level.

And what happens on election night – by law, first off, the supervisors in Florida, we can begin tabulating the vote-by-mail ballots 22 days before the election. And we do that, and those results are held in queue in our election-management server.

Also, by law, on the Monday before the election, I have to upload the early vote results into that same system. So shortly after 7 p.m. on election night, you're going to see every county in the state of Florida, we'll be pushing out the vote-by-mail and early vote numbers, they will be the very first numbers to come out. Then the precincts will begin to start coming in.

So Florida is going to have a lot of unofficial results that will be put out there on election night. The only thing that will be outstanding at that point are the vote-by-mail ballots that we got that day that we haven't been able to process yet. But we'll process those before we go home the next day.

So if you didn't vote at your precinct polling site, because you voted elsewhere early or by mail, are you counted as part of your precinct?

It’s reported at precinct level, everything we do is by precinct level, and that's by state law.

What advice do you have for Florida voters about interpreting the results as they come in?

The very first thing, as we've been saying for a while now, is to get your information from a trusted source. Your Supervisor of Elections is a trusted source.

You know, I did an interview earlier, a TV interview, and they [the interviewer] asked, you know, “Are we going to be able to call the election on election night?” And I said, “Well, that's TV talk.”

We don't call the election, we're going to have unofficial results, because by law, we're not going to finalize that for 12 days after the election. You're still going to see results coming in.

A voter has two days after the election to cure any signature deficiency on a vote-by-mail ballot. They have the same timeframe to cure any issue with a provisional ballot. So we're going to continue to see totals come in and go up after election night.

So we won't be certifying that for 12 days, and the reason for that is a built-in time limit to be able to conduct a recount if we need to. We saw that happen in 2018. We had the three statewide recaps, I had a local recount, so I had four. Those results weren't anywhere near final until almost right before that 12 days.

You mentioned the local Supervisors of Elections’ websites, anywhere else voters should be looking to track results?

They can always go to the Secretary of State Division of Elections website. They start posting at 8 p.m. our time [EST] because you know, we've got a time zone split [in Florida]. So the central time [Panhandle], they'll be closing an hour later.

And you know, another point is that you may go to your Supervisor of Elections website, and you're looking at a race, and that race is also voted in two other counties. So you need to go to the state website at that point to see what the accumulation is.

And that can often be a little tricky, because you might look at your county and that candidate is winning huge. But then when you go to the state, you find out the candidate didn't do so good in the other two counties and he's losing huge.

So you know, just be careful what you're looking at, and double check too.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.