Voting in Florida, Then and Now

On March 3, 1845, the U.S. admitted Florida as the 27th state in the Union.  A proclamation was issued for a statewide election to be held on May 26, 1845, in which citizens would elect a Governor, a member of the United States Congress, seventeen state senators, and forty-one state representatives.

Florida's first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Florida’s first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida's first state governor (circa 1845-49).

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida’s first state governor (circa 1845-49).

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida's first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Note that U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures at this time, not chosen directly by the people. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

Florida’s Legislative Council passed an act “to Facilitate the Organization of the State of Florida” on March 11, 1845, part of which laid out the criteria a citizen had to meet in order to participate in the election. Voting was restricted to free white males who were citizens of the U.S. at the time of the election and had lived in Florida for at least two years. A voter could only cast a ballot in the county where he had lived for at least six months and was enrolled as a member of the local militia.

J.H. Colton's map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

J.H. Colton’s map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

Each of Florida’s twenty-five counties was divided into precincts. Clerks of the county courts appointed inspectors for each precinct to ensure an accurate and orderly voting process.  Each clerk and inspector kept poll books listing the voters.  Attached to these poll books were certificates of election on which the inspectors and clerk, after having counted the votes, wrote down the results for each candidate. Sometimes a voter’s qualifications were challenged by an inspector. In these cases, the inspector reviewed the available evidence and either had the voter swear an oath affirming his eligibility or rejected his claim outright.  Either outcome was then noted on the certificate.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter's attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison's right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter’s attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison’s right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

In this example, John L. Call's credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirmning his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

In this example, John L. Call’s credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirming his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

Today, 169 years after the 1845 election that marked the beginning of Florida’s statehood, voting technology has changed a great deal, as have the requirements for becoming eligible to cast a ballot.

In 1845, a qualified voter could simply walk up to a precinct on Election Day and vote, barring any challenges from the inspector in charge. Today voters must register, and meet the following requirements:

  • Be a Citizen of the United States of America (a lawful permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen)
  • Be a Florida resident
  • Be 18 years old
  • Not have been judged mentally incapacitated by a court order
  • Not have been convicted of a felony without the citizen’s civil rights having been restored
  • Provide current and valid Florida driver’s license number or Florida identification card number. If a citizen does not have a Florida driver’s license number or a Florida identification card number then he or she must provide the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. If the citizen does not have any of these items, he or she must write “none” in the box or field where type of available ID is indicated.

 

Voter registration drive - Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

Voter registration drive – Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

In 1845, the only way to vote was in person. Today, Florida counties offer several methods for casting a legal ballot:

  • Go to designated poll site and vote in person
  • Early voting
  • Absentee voting
Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida's 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida’s 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Florida's state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Florida’s state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Are you a qualified Florida voter? If so, election season is here, and you have the opportunity to help shape the future of your community and state. Make a note of the dates below, and exercise your right to cast a ballot on Election Day. For more information about voting in Florida, visit the Florida Department of State – Division of Elections website.

Primary Election

Deadline to Register: July 28, 2014
Election Day: August 26, 2014

General Election

Deadline to Register: October 6, 2014
Election Day: November 4, 2014

Polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

Florida Memory is currently digitizing the returns from the 1845 statehood election, so everyone will be able to easily access them for genealogical and historical research. Expect to see them online and ready to search in a few weeks!

 

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  1. Pingback: Voting, Then & Now | Historical Society of Sarasota County

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