By Ariel Thomas | firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 30,000 people voted early or by mail in St. Johns County in advance of the presidential primary scheduled for Tuesday.
Republican Donald Trump is favored to win in Florida, polls show.
The St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections reported Sunday that a total of 31,461 people voted early or by mail. Of those, 23,495 – or 75 percent – were Republicans, 7,962 were Democrats, and four were designated as “other.”
Some voters may lean toward the Democratic Party, but feel pressure to register as Republicans in the county, some Democrats say.
“If they are Democrat, they feel as if they are being persecuted or discriminated against,” says Annette Capella, the Democratic Party’s state committeewoman in St. Johns County. “So they register as a Republican if they work for the county even if they’re really Democratic.”
Nell Toensmann, chair of the St. Johns Democratic Party, agreed.
“If you want to run for office in St. Johns, it’s much easier if there is an ‘R’ by your name,” she says. “Some races never get to general election because they will have a write-in candidate which will close an election to anyone not registered as a Republican. It happened two years ago with Jeb Smith.”
Smith is now the District 2 County Commissioner after winning 11 percent of votes.
Republicans dominate on the Historic Coast, but Capella contends that there are more Democrats than it appears.
“Some people who register as a Republican are really Democrat simply so they can vote in the primary,” she says.
Some of the topics Democrats have discussed recently include growth and development, fracking and education. Capella says that schools are underfunded, which complicates the county’s efforts to build new schools and improve the quality of education.
“We’re considered best in testing and quality,” Capella says, but when schools remain underfunded, some academic programs can be “difficult to maintain in the future.”
Funding for education is also a problem at the state level, says Kathleen Trued, corresponding secretary of the St. Johns Democratic Party.
“State legislatures have voted to not fund infrastructure of schools or the building of schools, only charter schools,” she says. This is a problem, she says, because while public schools serve everyone, charter schools serve only a select few.
“This is a major problem we have with education,” Capella says. “Teachers, residents, and students are suffering.”
Another topic Toensmann feels strongly about is the impact of development on the county. Developers don’t pay enough for infrastructure, which leads to environmental and transportation problems, she says.
Fracking, a controversial process used to drill into the earth to release gas, is issue of concern, Trued says. She says although most coastal cities oppose the process, the state government in Tallahassee is pushing for it anyway. Fracking would take place mostly along the coastline, she says.
Toensmann says fracking could impact the wetlands in Ponte Vedra because oil companies would likely dump dirt in the area, making the wetlands inhabitable. She believes that fracking would also have an adverse impact on wildlife in and around the Matanzas River.
St. Johns Democrats have also been working to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing. Capella says many prisons are filled with inmates who have been sentenced to 25-plus years for minor crimes. Keeping inmates in prison is expensive for the county.
“We could save billions every year by releasing some of these people who are unjustly placed in prison, very much impacting everyone throughout the state,” Capella says.
In February, the Democratic Party held two mock elections aimed at giving voters a better understanding of the views of the two Democratic candidates for president, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Toensmann says the experience was enlightening.
“The hope is people will be willing to support either candidate in the presidential election,” she says.