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GOP gains ground over 2008 in absentee, early vote total

Posted Nov 4, 2012 by William March

Updated Nov 4, 2012 at 10:08 PM

As the partisan battle over early voting in Florida broke into a legal fight Sunday, it appeared President Barack Obama would head into election day in Florida with a much smaller early/absentee vote advantage than in 2008.

But after litigation filed by the state Democratic Party, in-person absentee voting will be available in several counties including Hillsborough and Pinellas during the day Monday at elections offices.

According to the state Division of Election, combined early votes plus absentee ballots turned in as of the end of the early voting period Saturday showed a lead of 159,612, or about 3.6 percentage points, in ballots cast by registered Democrats over those cast by Republicans.

That’s substantially less 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 won among votes cast on election day in 2008, but not by enough to overcome that advantage, and Obama won Florida by 2.8 percentage points.

Early voting, popular with minorities, has been a key part of Democratic strategy in state politics since 2004.

State Democrats including Sen. Bill Nelson, citing lines up to six hours long Saturday at early voting stations around the state, repeated their argument that the cutback in early voting days this year was an attempt by the Republican majority in the state Legislature to suppress turnout of minority voters and influence the outcome of the election.

Nelson said the long lines at early voting sites—up to six hours in major Democratic counties in Southeast Florida counties including Miami-Dade—could call into question the legitimacy of the election.

By refusing to extend early voting hours, Nelson said in an open letter to Gov. Rick Scott, “You are allowing people to be turned away and jeopardizing the credibility of Florida’s election.”

In Miami-Dade, elections officials reported waiting times of two and a half to six hours at the county’s 20 early voting sites as the close of early voting, 7 p.m. Saturday, approached.

Despite those lines, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner asserted early voting was going smoothly, and said Florida law didn’t allow any extension of voting hours except in case of an emergency.

The state Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit early Sunday seeking extension of early voting in several counties including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward. It also sued to open an Orange County site Sunday, to make up for time that site was closed Saturday due to a suspicious package.

By the end of the day Saturday, the Obama campaign announced that in-person absentee voting, in which voters can go to their local elections offices, request a ballot, and vote it on the spot or return it by mail, would be allowed all day Sunday and Monday in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Leon, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

In Hillsborough, the available locations Monday are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Supervisor of Elections office in the Fred B. Karl County Center, 601 E Kennedy Boulevard; the South Regional Office at 10439 Gibsonton Drive in Riverview; and the Northwest Regional Office, 12022 Anderson Road, Tampa.

Democrats could have good reason to be worried about curtailment of early voting.

The eight days allowed this year under a new law passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature produced fewer Democratic ballots than the 14 days allowed in 2008.

The figures for this year, according to the state Division of Elections:

—Overall early and absentee Totals: 4,421,453
—Total cast by registered Republicans: 1,733,065, or 39.2 percent
—Total cast by registered Democrats: 1,892,677, or 42.8 percent
—Total cast by no-party/minor party registrants: 795,711, or 18 percent.

Those figures don’t include absentee ballots requested but not returned, nor do they include totals from any voting Sunday.