Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
September 9, 2014 1:00 a.m.

voter_turnout-335x248Nassau County, Florida, is home to more than 55,000 active, registered voters.  Roughly 20 percent of these voters chose to participate in the August 26 Primary Election that resulted in the election of George Spicer as the new County Commissioner for District 4.   Spicer captured 5,331 votes to defeat incumbent Barry Holloway by 179 votes.  So Spicer won the right to represent all Nassau County voters when only 9.6% of the county’s registered voters voted for him.  There were 634 under votes in the District 4 contest, meaning that 634 people who comprised part of that 20 percent vote turnout cast a blank ballot in that particular race.  How could such a thing have happened?

There is the obvious answer that voters did not like either candidate.  But there is another explanation:  some people thought that because they were not registered Republicans, they could not vote in an election called a “Universal Primary.”  So they voted for other races on their ballot, but left the District 4 race blank.  I have also been told that many of the people who are registered as “NPA”—no party affiliation—or “Other”—did not bother to vote because they did not understand that they could vote in an election called a Universal Primary.  Since the Nassau County Supervisor of Elections does an excellent job of mailing out sample ballots, I’m not sure what more can be done to educate voters on the twists and turns of primary elections.  But this little misunderstanding could have been a factor in Barry Holloway’s loss to George Spicer in the District 4 race.  Regardless, George Spicer won that election and has every right to celebrate his victory.

FOpinions_ SmallerHow did the voting numbers break down for the City of Fernandina Beach?  Were city voters more motivated to vote than county residents?  Did Republicans turn out in greater numbers than Democrats?  Let’s look at some of the results by precinct.  The City of Fernandina Beach voters are divided among three precincts:

101—voting at the MLK Center; 102—voting at the Atlantic Rec Center; and 201—voting at First Baptist Church.  The total of active, registered voters for the city is 9,412, or about 17% of the county’s voters.  By registration, there are 3,077 Democrats (21% of the county’s Democrats), 4,190 Republicans (14% of the county’s Republicans) and 2,118 NPA/Other (about 20% of the similar group for the county as a whole).  In looking at the gross numbers by precinct, keep in mind that all three city precincts are mixed precincts, that is they contain both city and non-city voters.

The table below, with detail provided by the Supervisor of Elections, provides a turn out analysis of exclusively Fernandina Beach city voters by precinct for the 2014 Primary Election:


Precinct Democrat Republican NPA Other TOTAL






Voted at Polls






Voted Absentee






Early Voted






% Of turnout 16.9 22.6 7.7 7.9 16.5
102-Atl Rec






Voted at Polls






Voted Absentee






Early Voted






% Of turnout 22.9 31.7 8.4 14.4 24.2
201-1st Bapt






Voted at Polls






Voted Absentee






Early Voted






% of turnout 26.3 30.1 9.4 9.5 24.4

661 – 21.5%

1,341 –


145 -8.6%

51 -11.9%

2,198 –



What, if anything, do these numbers tell us about the city’s voting population?  The most motivated group seemed to be the Republicans, but even with two county commission seats up for grabs, only 32% of the city’s Republicans cared enough to vote.  The newest city voting precinct (201) and Atlantic Avenue Rec Center (Precinct 102) each recorded about a 24% voter turnout, while the turnout at the MLK Center precinct 101 was a poor third at 16.5%.  Precinct 101 is the only city precinct in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans.  In round numbers, only 2,200 city voters took advantage of absentee, early or election day voting to cast ballots.  With turn out numbers like these it is no wonder that those who run for election at the county level do not feel political pressure to give high priority to city needs or requests for help.

There will be another election in November.  Registered city voters will all receive the same ballot; no confusion over who can vote in which race.  City elections are non-partisan.  In addition to county, state and national races, there will be four city questions on the ballot:  two to select city commissioners for Groups 2 and 3; the straw ballot for mayor, and a referendum seeking approval to extend city commissioner terms from 3 to four years.

In the Group 2 race, former commissioner Tim Poynter and political newcomer Roy Smith are challenging incumbent commissioner Charlie Corbett.  Political newcomer Robin Lentz is challenging incumbent commissioner and Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican in the Group 3 race.  In the Mayoral straw poll, voters will be asked to express their preference for either incumbent Mayor Ed Boner or incumbent Commissioner Pat Gass.  These candidates, all motivated to serve, do not share the same political philosophy or vision for the city.

PrintEvery election is important.  But some are pivotal.  With two commissioner positions up for election this year, it will be crucial for voters to head to the polls armed with facts, not just rumors and “street talk,” as they begin charting the city’s course for the next three years.  At least two candidate forums will be held this fall to highlight the candidates and their positions on important matters that affect our citizens and the future of the city.  There will be much written and said by and about all the candidates.  Voters will have many opportunities to listen to the candidates’ plans to spur economic growth, address infrastructure needs and keep taxes affordable.

But in the final analysis, only those who show up to vote will determine the direction of the city.  Hopefully, you will be one of those people.

Suanne ThammEditor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Karen Thompson
Karen Thompson (@guest_21486)
8 years ago

Very well done Suanne!

lisa Johns
lisa Johns (@guest_21510)
8 years ago

I Don’t Understand Why We Have Democrat/Republican,We Should Be Able To Just Vote For The Person We Feel Best For The Job. I Was Democrat For Ever,But Found Myself Wanting A Republican As A Better Choice On Many Occasions. I Now Am A Republican, But I Should Be Able To Be One And Still Vote On ALL Elections For The Better Man Or Woman.

Commissioner Barry V Holloway
Commissioner Barry V Holloway (@guest_21671)
8 years ago
Reply to  lisa Johns

Lisa, I have heard rumors in Tallahassee that the Legislature my go to a non-partisan primary. Then the top 2 vote getters will go to the General Election. No party is involved! You could have 2 Democrats in the general as well as 2 NPA’S! Everyone then votes in the Primary and General Election! Maybe a good thing?

ralph allen
ralph allen (@guest_21511)
8 years ago

I’m in the group of voters who were confused. On the county level, I expected my voting options to include Steve Kelly and Mike Boyle, candidates for District 2. District 2 is where I live. Instead, my voting choices were Spicer and Holloway, candidates for district 4, where I don’t live. So the candidate, all along, I expected and wanted to vote for did not get my vote.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_21586)
8 years ago

Republicans were more apt to vote simply because they had more things to vote for. It’s really that simple. I’ve met many Independents who did not bother to vote or return absentee ballots simply because there were only two things on the ballot and one was a judgeship they knew little about. The biggest “draws” were the two county commission races … and only one was on the non-Republican ballots.

John P. Megna
John P. Megna (@guest_21630)
8 years ago

Nothing good can be said about the turnout at the last primary elections. From experience of being at the polls I see the low turnouts each year. This wasn’t a good sign for the coming November Election on the 4th. Please, Vote and make your vote count! We fight hard to enjoy the privilege of being able to vote in this country but so few do – don’t understand. Everyone’s vote does count – but only if you vote. Many issues are there and it is important that the right candidate is chosen to help US meet these challenges and help solve our problems.

Commissioner Barry V Holloway
Commissioner Barry V Holloway (@guest_21670)
8 years ago

Low voter turn out certainly hurts the Incumbent. While only 20% of our registered voters voted! only 6.9% voted for my opponent. There were over 600 under votes in the District 4 race! I have always asked people at every event I attend to do their homework, be an informed voter, do your research.

In the upcoming November 4th election, please vote! Do your homework! Be an informed and educated voter! Your votes will determine the direction of our County and City!

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