JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Floridians turned out in droves Saturday as eight days of early voting began in advance of what is expected to be a close presidential race in a state that could determine the outcome of the election.
Election Day is Nov. 6, but early voting sites will stay open daily through Saturday for voters to cast their ballots early.
In Duval County, more people voted on Saturday than in all eight days of early voting before the August primary. By the end of the day, 21,387 votes were cast in Duval County, with 7,780 more in St. Johns County and 5,727 in Clay County.
Statewide numbers were not reported by Sunday morning, but reports from across the state indicated a strong turnout.
"Every day of early voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 at night (in Jacksonville), so, really, a great opportunity for people to take advantage of if," Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said. "There may be lines ... but I assure you, if you wait until Election Day, the lines will be even longer."
Holland has predicted an 80 percent voter turnout, and with a four-page ballot that includes lengthy write-ups of 11 constitutional amendments, he and other election officials are predicting a wait of up to three hours to vote on election day.
Prior to Saturday, more than 1.1 million Floridians had already cast ballots through mail-in absentee voting, and far more than that are expected cast ballots during early voting. More than 41,000 absentee ballots have been received by the Duval County elections office out of 96,800 requested.
For any voters who have either forgotten the 2000 Florida recount or become complacent about casting their ballots, President Barack Obama's campaign has been running a 30-second ad to remind them. Images of war, economic hardships and the infamous hanging chads from disputed Florida ballots scroll by while a narrator says, "If you're thinking your vote doesn't count, that it won't matter, well, back then, there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way."
That's the number of votes that comprised Republican George W. Bush's Florida margin over Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
Obama carried Florida in 2008, but he's locked in a very tight race with Romney in the state that could decide the election. Romney was in Florida on Saturday to help kick-off the GOP's early voting efforts, while Obama to campaign with former President Bill Clinton in Orlando on Monday.
Groups on both sides of the presidential race are organizing early voting drives in the hopes of getting their supporters to the polls during an early voting period that is shorter than in previous elections. Voting rights groups concerned about problems with access unsuccessfully challenged the reduced time frame in the courts.
State officials early Saturday released new voter registration numbers that show the number of active Florida voters has grown 6 percent since 2008 to a total of 11.94 million.
The gap between Republicans and Democrats is smaller, though, than it was four years ago, according to the new registration numbers. There are 4.78 million Democrats and 4.24 Republicans.
The number of voters not affiliated with any party, however, grew at a substantially faster rate than either major party, officials said.
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