Some Floridians waited for hours to cast their ballots on the last day of early voting Saturday, but Gov. Rick Scott stood firm against calls from Democrats and independent groups to allow one more day to vote before Tuesday.
At the close of the eighth and final day of early voting in Florida, more than 4.4 million, or early 40 percent of registered voters in the state, had cast ballots. The numbers were substantially higher in northeast Florida, where 43 percent of Duval County's voters had either returned absentee ballots or voted early. The number in St. Johns County was 48 percent, and Nassau County reached 54 percent.
"It's an American responsibility," voter Jan Wills said will waiting to vote Saturday. "I think it's our obligation to be voting in the United States. I don't think there's any excuse for a citizen not to vote."
When the lines cleared at all 17 early voting sites in Jacksonville on Saturday -- some waiting up to two hours to vote -- 28,893 ballots were cast. While that was a single-day record for Duval County, the total early votes fell short of 46 percent who voted early in 2008 when the early voting period lasted 16 days.
Early turnout was even stronger in neighboring counties. More than 50 percent of Nassau County voters cast ballots either early or by mail.
Vote totals through close of polls Saturday
|Mail-in ballots||Early votes||Percentage voted|
|St. Johns County||20,320||52,569||48%|
While the votes won't be counted until Tuesday, state election officials say 43 percent of the ballots cast so far are by registered Democrats and 40 percent are from Republican voters.
All precincts will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and Duval County Election Supervisor Jerry Holland predicts an 80 percent turnout when the poll close on Election Day. While that's higher than most elections, he can't understand why it's not closer to 100 percent.
"About 100,000 voters in Duval County will not go to the polls for this election. That's the sad part," Holland said. "How many people have died for that right for those people and really take advantage of it. There is something on the ballot that affects you in every day of your life."
As Fla. voters face long lines, Scott stands firm
Amid long lines across the state Saturday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stood outside one jammed polling place in Orange County to call on the Republican governor to extend early voting through Sunday -- but to no avail.
The face-off was the latest over what Democrats allege are Republican efforts to limit participation because early voting is widely seen as benefiting Democrats in some states The dispute comes a dozen years after Republican George W. Bush's razor-thin win in the state following a U.S. Supreme Court decision to halt a recount.
Scott and state officials continued to insist there were no reasons to keep polls open beyond the eight days already authorized in state law. The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature last year rolled back the number of early-voting days from a maximum of 14 days to eight days. The move triggered a legal battle, but the reduction was upheld by federal courts.
During a Republican campaign event in Orange Park on Friday, Scott stressed that any Florida voter who got in line before polls closed Saturday would get a chance to vote.
"People are getting out to vote. That's what's very good," Scott said. "People are getting out to vote, they're voting absentee, they're voting early voting...I'm focused on making sure that we have fair, honest elections. One thing to know, these early voting days and on Election Day, if you're there by the time the polls close, you get to vote."
Nelson, however, said that the cut in early voting days was "intended to suppress the vote."
The senator sent a letter to Scott in which he said that the problems could be "jeopardizing the credibility of Florida's election." He asked Scott to use his emergency powers to keep the polls open.
Nelson, who himself is seeking re-election, cited the long lines and problems with limited parking as reasons to extend early voting one more day "in the interest of fairness."
"You've never seen lines like this," Nelson said. "...We ought to be making voting convenient for the voter. We shouldn't be making it more difficult."
Even before the final weekend before the election, some 3.9 million Floridians had voted early or through the mail, according to state election officials. There are nearly 12 million active registered voters in the state.
Long lines were reported across the state, including a six-hour wait time at one early-voting site in Miami-Dade County. Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer asked for more early-voting time, but was told by state officials that no emergency existed to justify an extension.
"As state officials, we are bound to follow the law," Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote Sawyer.
James Colimon was waiting in line at the early voting site at the Winter Park library in Orange County but he had to leave two and a half hours later to pick up his daughter. He said his wife was still in line and that he planned to return later.
"I wish the governor would have extended early voting," Colimon said.
Later in the day, however, voting was suspended at that site because of a cooler found outside the library. The discovery prompted officials to evacuate the building. A bomb squad was called in, which took the cooler and planned to blow it up.