An Election of Primary Importance

Guest Correspondence

Perhaps nowhere in American democracy is the impact of absence more prevalent than at the ballot during a primary election.  Indeed, only 16.5 percent of registered voters in Sarasota County cast a ballot in the 2012 primary election.  That number pales in comparison to the 75.2 percent of voters who cast a ballot in the subsequent general election. 

Granted, the 2012 general election took place during a Presidential election cycle, Florida is a closed primary state, and the primary elections take place in August when any number of Sarasota residents are out of the area for any number of reasons.  However, understanding why something may have happened is far different than understanding the impact of it happening. 

In 2012, a Sarasota County Commissioner was almost, by default, determined as a result of the primary election.  Voters would only otherwise be able to vote for write-in candidates in the general election.  That means that the winner of the primary election would be the only name that would actually appear on the general election ballot.  Not surprisingly, that candidate took over 97% of the vote in the general election. 

While that same candidate won the primary in a relatively decisive fashion, in fact by over 17 percentage points, looking closely at the numbers one might concede that the race was closer than it appeared.  The winning candidate took the primary election by less than 2 percent of the registered voter count. 

Of course, because Florida is a closed primary state and a write-in candidate qualified for candidacy, only voters registered with the candidate’s party could cast their vote in the primary.  That party currently comprises nearly 43 percent of the registered voters in Sarasota County.  By that measure, the winning candidate won the race by less than 4 percent of the potential total vote.  That means that if 4 out of every 100 people that didn’t vote instead showed up and voted for the other candidate, Sarasota County could conceivably have a different County Commissioner.

To be clear, I happen to think that the winning candidate is doing a great job.  I say none of this to imply that he should have lost, or even might have if 100 percentof the eligible voters cast a ballot.  Instead, I say this in an attempt to illustrate the importance of voting in a primary election.  Primary elections are often overlooked as trivial, if acknowledged at all.  In Sarasota County, however, elected officials, both County Commission and otherwise, are often determined during the primary election.  If nothing else, the general election ballots can be significantly impacted by what takes place in August.

In politics, as in many arenas, complacency can be one’s own worst enemy.  Whether you’re a candidate or a voter, you can lose just as easily based on who doesn’t show up as who does. 

The 2014 primary election takes place on Tuesday, Aug. 26.  Early voting begins on Aug. 16 and ends on Aug. 23.  The deadline to register for absentee voting is Aug. 19.  For more information, visit

SRQ Daily Columnist Kevin Cooper is the vice president for Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

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