Miami New Times' August 2020 Primary Election Live-Blog

ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is running against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is running against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Photos courtesy of Melba Pearson and Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
click to enlarge ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is running against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF MELBA PEARSON AND MIAMI-DADE STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is running against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Photos courtesy of Melba Pearson and Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
Today's primary election in Florida might as well be considered a test run for November. Putting aside the state's March presidential primary, which happened right at the beginning of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, this month's election is the first to occur here with masked voters, social-distancing policies, and a larger-than-usual number of mail-in ballots.

In Miami-Dade County, a number of important races will be decided tonight. Reform candidate Melba Pearson is running to unseat incumbent State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Because no Republican entered the race, voters of all political persuasions are choosing between the two candidates, who are both Democrats.

The ballot also includes five candidates for the nonpartisan seat of Miami-Dade county mayor: current county commissioners Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava, and Xavier Suarez; former county mayor Alex Penelas; and newcomers Monique Nicole Barley and Ludmilla Domond. Because a 50 percent majority is needed to win the election, it's expected that the two most popular candidates will duke it out in November.

The election will also change the makeup of the Miami-Dade County Commission in Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Only two of those races involve sitting commissioners defending their seats — Eileen Higgins in District 5 and Joe A. Martinez in District 11.

The polls close tonight at 7 p.m. We'll share updates below as the results roll out.

Live updates:

11:02 p.m.:
We're calling it a day. Good night, folks!

10:56 p.m.:
It's almost 11 p.m., and almost all Miami-Dade precincts have reported their election results.

Seven of the 13 county commission seats were up for grabs, and it looks like most races will be headed to a runoff. As of now, one of two incumbents is here to stay. District 11 Commissioner Joe Martinez, who represents unincorporated communities in West Miami-Dade, has secured nearly 55 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff.

The second incumbent, Commissioner Eileen Higgins, leads her opponent Renier Diaz de la Portilla by a little bit more than 2,000 votes. Higgins, whose District 5 includes parts of Miami Beach, Downtown, Brickell, and Little Havana, has about 47 percent of the vote to Diaz de la Portilla's 40 percent. Another challenger, Miguel C. Soliman, trails behind with 13 percent of the vote.

Sybrina Fulton and Oliver Gilbert are still neck-and-neck for the District 1 seat, which represents Miami Gardens and parts of Opa-locka. They're vying to replace term-limited Commissioner Barbara Jordan. Gilbert has 50.59 percent of the vote to Fulton's 49.41 percent.

Keon Hardemon, a City of Miami commissioner since 2013, announced he would resign from his position this year to run for Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson's seat. He's leading with 49 percent of the vote to represent District 3, which covers Liberty City, Little Haiti, Overtown, Edgewater, Allapattah, Wynwood, and other areas.

It's a tight race for District 7 between Cindy Lerner, former mayor of Pinecrest, and Raquel Regalado, a familiar name in Miami-Dade politics because of previous bids for county mayor, the Florida Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives. (Her father is former Miami mayor Tomas Regalado.) Lerner is leading with 39 percent of the vote to Regalado's 36 percent. Whoever wins the runoff would represent parts of Brickell, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami, Pinecrest and Kendall.

Florida Rep. Kionne McGee leads the race for county commission in District 9. With 37 percent of the vote, it looks like McGee would face off against Homestead councilman Elvis R. Maldonado, his closest challenger, to replace Dennis Moss on the dais.

And finally, former state Sen. Rene Garcia had an easy victory against his lone opponent, political newcomer Adrian Jesus Jimenez. Garcia got 77 percent of the vote to lead District 13, which represents Hialeah and Miami Lakes.

9:44 p.m.:
It’s all but official: Miami-Dade voters will have the choice between Esteban "Steve" Bovo and Daniella Levine Cava in the November general election. The two commissioners are running to become the next county mayor.

Although the seat is nonpartisan, Bovo is a conservative who has aligned himself with President Donald Trump, while Levine Cava is a progressive with a left-leaning voting record on the commission.

Bovo has not yet made a public announcement.

In a statement released by her campaign, Levine Cava said she was "proud and humbled to have earned one of the top spots on the ballot in the general election."

"It is time to turn the page," she said in the statement. "It is time for the mayor's office to reflect the true values of our community: fairness, respect, and honest."
9:35 p.m.: Esteban "Steve" Bovo has officially pulled ahead of Daniella Levine Cava in the mayoral race for the first time tonight, as the last few precincts start to trickle in.

Bovo is now ahead of Levine Cava by 3,000 votes. The conservative candidate was significantly floated by in-person votes, of which he received 34,936, despite pandemic concerns. For comparison, Levine Cava, who was previously leading by mail-in ballots, has only 20,812 in-person votes.

This race will likely lead to a runoff between Bovo and Levine Cava in November, and time will tell if Bovo's alliance with President Donald Trump will help him or hurt him in the general election.

9:28 p.m.:
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez has won the Republican primary for Florida's 26th Congressional District.

So far, Giménez has captured 59 percent of the vote and declared victory over his opponent, Miami-Dade firefighter Omar Blanco.

In November, Giménez will face off against incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who has already released a new campaign attacking Giménez as "too Corrupt for Congress."
9:27 p.m.: Miami-based documentary filmmaker Billy Corben would like to remind you that Al Gore once called Alex Penelas "the single most treacherous and dishonest person I dealt with" during the 2000 presidential campaign. Penelas, who was mayor of Miami-Dade from 1996 to 2004 and wanted his title back for another go-round, has called opponents Daniella Levine Cava and Esteban Bovo to concede the race for county mayor, per the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas. Cava led Bovo by more than 20,000 mail ballots, but Bovo has taken the lead on Election Day votes.

9:14 p.m.: Up in Palm Beach County, far-right conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “most banned woman on the internet” Laura Loomer has captured 42 percent of the vote so far in her bid to join Congress.

That means Loomer will likely be the Republican challenger for Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in the November election. Loomer, who has a history of making Islamophobic remarks, raised more than $1.1 million toward her campaign, according to the Daily Beast.

9:06 p.m.: You know how close that jerk parks next to your car in the Publix parking lot? Or how close your sibling might put their finger to your face while teasing, "I'm not touching you"? That's how close the county mayor and commission District 1 races are at this point.

In the mayoral race, Daniella Levine Cava is leading by only 70 (70!) votes. That's fewer people than are packed into that Publix you were trying to get to. She is trailed by opponent and fellow commissioner Esteban Bovo, who is well ahead of Levine Cava in Election Day votes but trails in vote-by-mail ballots.

In District 1, current Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert is ahead by only 384 votes against his opponent Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. Both are after the seat of incumbent Barbara Jordan on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.

8:54 p.m.: Melba Pearson, Katherine Fernandez Rundle's opponent, has conceded the race for Miami-Dade state attorney, according to WLRN reporter Danny Rivero.

Pearson was supported by several progressive groups, including Dream Defenders and New Florida Majority. That support was not nearly enough: So far, she’s captured about 39 percent of the vote, with the majority of precincts reporting.

8:52 p.m.:
After a sometimes vitriolic race in which his opponents tried to weaponize his sexuality, state Rep. Shevrin Jones has become the first openly gay Black member of the Florida Senate, according to Sun-Sentinel political reporter Anthony Man. Jones won the Democratic primary to replace state Sen. Oscar Braynon in District 35, which covers parts of northeast Miami-Dade and southeast Broward. Jones has served as a state representative in Florida House District 101, which spans Pembroke Pines on the west and Hallandale Beach on the east, since 2013.

In a statement, Jones said: "I am honored to have earned the people’s trust as we keep fighting for the many communities who have felt attacked and forgotten in today's Florida. There's no question that there’s more work to be done — from dismantling systemic injustice, to advocating for a people-first recovery from the ongoing public health and economic crises — and I look forward to lifting up the voices of hardworking Floridians as SD 35's next State Senator."

8:36 p.m.: TFW you're leading by 2,065 votes:

8:24 p.m.: Hardly an hour after the polls closed, incumbent Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has already given her victory speech over Facebook Live.
Rundle is ahead of her opponent Melba Pearson by almost 100,000 votes, so the victory lap is probably warranted, if not a little early in the night.

In her speech, Rundle nodded to the months of coverage about her muddled history with law enforcement and the growing outcry for criminal justice reform.

"Our nation is rightfully focused on the injustices of our social and criminal justice systems, and they need to be evaluated and re-evaluated to make sure that we always seek equal outcomes," Rundle said.

She added that her first order of business will be creating a task force of community and faith-based leaders, law enforcement, sociologists, and academics to examine inequalities in Miami-Dade's criminal justice system.

To those who voted for Pearson, Rundle says she will represent them as well and hopes to create "unity" rather than division.

8:11 p.m.: Election Day Twitter has spent part of the day marveling at the apparent increase in engagement in local politics this year. And voter turnout numbers don't lie. While primary turnout doesn't compare to that of presidential elections, the number of registered voters and the percentage of people who voted is higher this year than in primaries past.

Miami-Dade has 1,499,402 registered voters this year, compared to 1,397,479 in 2018 and 1,306,681 in 2016. As of now, voter turnout is at 23.23 percent, compared to 21.8 percent in the 2018 primary and 20.9 percent in 2016.

8:00 p.m.: In-person votes from Election Day are starting to come in, and the county mayor race is getting even closer. Levine Cava still leads with about 29 percent of the vote, but Bovo is catching up at 27 percent. Under the microscope, though, Bovo is way ahead in terms of Election Day votes, with 10,448 in-person voters picking Bovo versus 4,705 for Cava so far. Third-place candidate Penelas isn't out yet either, with 25 percent of the vote and 5,407 in-person votes at this point.

Miami Herald local government reporter Doug Hanks predicted that Bovo may be the leader in terms of in-person votes, and those votes may very well be the deciding factor in this race.
7:58 p.m.: With 40 percent of precincts reporting and all early votes tallied, the race between Oliver Gilbert and Sybrina Fulton remains neck-in-neck for the District 1 county commission seat.

Gilbert, the mayor of Miami Gardens, has a slight edge, with just 263 more votes than Fulton, who is the mother of Trayvon Martin and a political newcomer. Fulton has been endorsed by a number of high-profile politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker.

7:37 p.m.: Early results are here for Miami-Dade County, with early votes completely accounted for and mail-in ballots partially counted.

In the closely watched state attorney's race, incumbent Katherine Fernandez Rundle is far ahead of her opponent, progressive Melba Pearson. Rundle is sitting at 188,945 votes, more than 70,000 votes ahead of Pearson.

The race has been highly publicized in light of recent protests for racial justice and police reform. Rundle has never prosecuted an officer for an on-duty killing in her 27 years as Miami-Dade's state attorney.

Because both candidates are Democrats, all voters were able to participate in this race during the primary.
The votes are much closer in the county mayoral race, with candidate Daniella Levine Cava eking out a lead of more than 10,000 votes ahead of opponent Esteban "Steve" Bovo, and about 15,000 ahead of former county mayor Alex Penelas. The next closest candidate is Xavier Suarez, with the remaining candidates significantly behind.

7:11 p.m.: The polls are closed! Still no results out of Miami-Dade County...
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Alexi C. Cardona is a staff writer at Miami New Times. A Hialeah native, she's happy to be back home writing about Miami's craziness after four years working for Naples Daily News.
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