Florida's Early Voting Outcome Differs From 2008

Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation this year that cut back the number of early voting days. In 2008, a big early Democratic turnout helped Barack Obama carry the state. With reduced early voting days, Democrats enter Election Day with a smaller lead over Republicans in Florida than four years ago.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On Election Day, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

And on this Election Day, we're hearing from polling places all over the country, as millions cast their ballots. This is, of course, the day when many have already voted. In past years, early voting has favored Democrats. This year may be different. We'll be hearing from the swing state of Colorado in a moment. First to Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature has changed the game by cutting back on the number of days allowed for early voting. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott signed legislation earlier this year that reduced the early voting period from 14 to 8 days. With fewer days, plus a lengthy ballot, throughout Florida the lines have been much longer than usual. It's not uncommon for people to wait three, four hours or more to vote.

David Campbell, an Obama supporter from North Miami, was waiting in line yesterday at the Miami-Dade elections office to cast an absentee ballot. He says he has friends who waited for more than six hours to cast their votes.

DAVID CAMPBELL: I've been in Florida for 16 years. I have never seen voter turnout and waits like this before in my life.

ALLEN: After Governor Scott refused to extend early voting, Democrats went to court. In response, Miami-Dade and several other counties allowed people yesterday and Sunday to cast in-person absentee ballots. At the Miami-Dade elections office, hundreds waited in line for hours to cast their absentee ballots. The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was also there on behalf of the Obama campaign. In a democracy, he said, it should be easy to vote.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Unfortunately, this is what happens when you have an administration and a majority in the legislature that wants to discourage voting and not encourage it.

ALLEN: Some Republicans aren't happy about the extended absentee voting. Here's Florida Republican Congressman Allen West yesterday on Fox News.

REPRESENTATIVE ALLEN WEST: You know, I think that you're starting to see some nefarious actions already coming from the other side because there's been an incredible turnout from Republican voters on the early voting down here in Florida.

ALLEN: Compounding the problem posed by reduced early voting days is a lengthy ballot. Florida's legislature put 11 complicated constitutional amendments on a ballot that now runs 10 to 12 pages long. The long lines Floridians experienced in early voting have many wondering what to expect today. Christina White is Miami-Dade County's deputy elections supervisor.

CHRISTINA WHITE: Well, I certainly hope nobody's dissuaded from voting. We hope that all of our registered voters come out to vote. Certainly, there will be lines. But we hope that people will prepare in advance of voting.

ALLEN: In 2008, by using early voting in Florida, Democrats rang up a large lead over Republicans by the time voting began on Election Day - eight points by one estimate. This year, many more Republicans used early voting than in 2008. And with the reduced number of days, fewer Democrats cast ballots through early voting.

An analysis of early voting and absentee ballot numbers by the Miami Herald could be troubling for Democrats. It suggests they go into today's voting with just a four point lead over Republicans - half of what it was four years ago.

Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami.

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