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Campaign Note: Elections 101

Last update July 23, 2014: The state Legislature holds elections every even year, with all 120 Florida House seats and half of the 40 Florida Senate seats vacant on Election Day. Gubernatorial and Cabinet elections are held every four years, with all four offices to be decided in 2014.

Representatives, senators and statewide executive offices are restricted by term limits and may only serve eight consecutive years in office.  House members can serve four consecutive two-year terms, while state senators, the governor and Cabinet members can serve two consecutive four-year terms. Partial terms such as those won through special elections don't count towards the limit.

Candidates must qualify for the ballot through petition or by paying a fee, and complete a series of forms, including a disclosure of their assets. Candidates for the Legislature need signatures from 1 percent of the registered voters in their district, while the governor and Cabinet need 119,345 signatures. Candidates must also file campaign finance reports detailing their contributions and expenditures. Early in the campaign cycle, finance reports are due monthly, but increase closer to Election Day.

After the 2014 qualifying period ended June 20, there were 38 unopposed House races and eight unopposed Senate races, with another six House candidates who only face write-in challengers.

Election Day in 2014 is Nov. 4, with primary elections being held 10 weeks prior on Aug. 26. On the ballot this year are even-numbered Senate districts, all 140 House seats, the 4 Cabinet offices and all 27 U.S. Congressional offices. In 2016, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat will be vacant, followed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat in 2018.

Florida is a closed primary state, meaning voters may only vote in a primary if they belong to the candidates' party. There is an exception to the rule, however, if all candidates have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified electors, regardless of party affiliation, may vote in the primary election for that office. Voter turnout in primaries has varied between 18 and 25 percent since 2000.

During a presidential election year, voter turnout in the general election increases significantly. In 2012, when President Barack Obama ran for reelection, 72 percent of Florida cast their ballot in the general election. By comparison, 49 percent voted in the 2010 general election.

Every 10 years district boundaries are re-configured based on population. New district maps were drawn by the Legislature in 2012, which vacated all 160 legislative seats -- even Senators who had won in 2010. The current maps will be used until the 2022 election cycle.

Related research:
2014 Candidates Running Unopposed
Calendar of Reporting Dates for 2014 Statewide Candidates
2014 Qualifying Handbook
2013 Financial disclosures
Salaries of Elected County Constitutional Officers and School District Officials for Fiscal Year 2013-14

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