Absentee voting extended in Hillsborough, Pinellas
By William March | Tribune StaffTAMPA - As the partisan battle over early voting in Florida broke into a legal fight Sunday, it appeared President Barack Obama will head into Election Day with a much smaller advantage among the state's early and absentee voters than he had in 2008.
Published: November 5, 2012
Published: November 5, 2012
The window on early voting hasn't completely closed, though. In-person absentee voting will be available in several counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, today at local elections offices, spurred by a lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party.
Among the 4.4 million early votes and absentee ballots cast statewide by the end of Saturday, Democrats held a lead of 159,612 votes, or about 3.6 percentage points, according to the state Division of Elections. Those figures don't include absentee ballots that have been requested but not returned or any voting on Sunday.
That margin is substantially smaller than the lead of more than 360,000 votes, or about 8.3 percent, Democrats had in combined early and absentee voting in 2008. Republican John McCain captured more votes on Election Day, but not enough to overcome Obama's early-voting advantage, which allowed him to win Florida by 2.8 percentage points.
Republicans expect to win again on Election Day — by enough, they hope, to overcome this year's Democratic early-voting advantage.
Early voting, popular with minorities, has been a key part of Democratic strategy in state politics since 2004.
Citing long lines Saturday at early voting stations around the state, Florida Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson, repeated their argument that the cutback in early voting days this year was an attempt by the Republican-dominated Legislature to suppress turnout of minority voters and influence the outcome of the election.
Those long lines, where waits were as much as six hours in Democratic strongholds in South Florida, could call into question the legitimacy of the election, Nelson said.
"You are allowing people to be turned away and jeopardizing the credibility of Florida's election," Nelson said in an open letter to Gov. Rick Scott, criticizing him for refusing to extend early voting hours.
In Miami-Dade County, elections officials reported wait times of between two and a half and six hours at the county's 20 early-voting sites as the end of early voting was approaching Saturday night.
Despite those lines, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said early voting was going smoothly and said Florida law didn't allow any extension of voting hours, except in an emergency.
The state Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit early Sunday seeking an extension of early voting in several counties, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward. It also sued to open an Orange County site on Sunday to make up for time it was closed Saturday due to a suspicious package.
In-person absentee voting where voters can go to local elections offices, request ballots and either vote there or return ballots by mail was allowed in several counties on Sunday and will be available today, too, including in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
In Hillsborough, in-person absentee voting will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at three Supervisor of Elections offices: the Fred B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa; the South Regional Office, at 10439 Gibsonton Drive in Riverview; and the Northwest Regional Office, at 12022 Anderson Road in Tampa.
Democrats could have good reason to be worried about the shortened early-voting period. The eight days allowed this year under a new law passed by the Legislature produced fewer Democratic ballots than the 14 days allowed in 2008.
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