JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's the first day of early voting in Florida and thousands have already turned out.
People began lining up before the polls opened up at 7 a.m. Saturday outside the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office. More than 3,600 people cast their vote in the first two hours -- more than any early voting day in the August primary election -- according to elections officials.
Billy Simmons hoped his early arrival would help him beat the crowds, but it didn't. "I was a little bit surprised, I call myself getting up early so I could avoid the lines but unfortunately several people had that same idea I'm glad to see as many people feeling that way," Simmons said.
With her week packed with plans, Deborah Williams was happy to cast her ballot this Saturday.
"People have to work through the week, and have kids to drop off back and forth to school and stuff like that so I think it's very good to have voting on weekends," Williams said.
Early voting lasts eight days this year, fewer days than in previous elections. Most larger counties are keeping sites 12 hours each day, so the number of hours available to early vote will stay the same.
"The key is when you come bring your photo ID, it'll help you move along quicker, your drivers license is the best photo ID. Also bring your sample ballot already filled out. That will save you time," said Jerry Holland, Duval County's Supervisor of Elections.
Holland also said this year's ballot is a long one -- four pages and more than 3,000 words -- so you'll want to take a look at it before you arrive.
With a strong showing on day one of early voting, Holland hopes the trend continues.
"It gives a great opportunity to people, take advantage of it. And we're encouraging people, there may be lines here today, but I assure you if you wait til election day the lines will be even longer," Holland said.
By midday Saturday, Clay County election officials said that they also already surpassed the number of votes cast in the entire first day of 2008 early voting.
President Barack Obama carried Florida in 2008, but he's locked in a very tight race with Gov. Mitt 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 was expected in the state 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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