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Voting has started in many states; Long lines in Florida

In Georgia, Florida and many other states, voting has already started. So those of you who can vote, don’t wait until Nov. 4 and get stuck in long lines. Go out and cast your vote today. The following is a story by about voting in Florida.

Early voters braving long lines in Broward and Palm Beach counties of Florida

By Rafael A. Olmeda, Scott Wyman and Mark Hollis

David Hare thought he’d get a jump on Election Day by taking advantage of early voting this morning. He got on line outside the Art Serve library on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale at 10:30 a.m.

Nearly three hours later, he was still waiting.

Early voting began today, with both presidential campaigns making big pushes to encourage people to vote in advance of the Nov. 4 election. If that was the plan, said Hare, it might have worked too well.

“One poll worker came out and told us they had no idea there would be this many voters,” said Hare, who identified himself as a “mega yacht captain” eager to cast his presidential vote for Democrat Barack Obama. “There’s still 100 people in front of me,” all waiting for a turn at one of six booths set up, Hare said. He finally cast his ballot at 3:40 p.m.

There were long lines at many of the 17 early voting locations across Broward County. At the African American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale, more than 200 people were on line when the polls opened at 10 a.m.

“I wanted to get it over with and avoid the long lines,” said Adolph Hill, of Fort Lauderdale, who figured lines will be longer on Nov. 4 than they are today.

There are 11 early voting sites in Palm Beach County. Few problems were reported early, on and lines stayed steady through lunch.

Officials say they are prepared to handle a large number of voters.

“We expected a large turnout,” said Robert Weiner, with the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office. “We’re prepared and are looking forward to it.”

More than 400,000 residents in the two counties are expected to vote in the next two weeks either by absentee ballot or at the early voting locations.

Campaign advisers and election administrators encourage early voting because of the high turnout expected this year. They predict 70 percent to 80 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters in the two counties will cast ballots, a turnout not seen since the early 1990s.

“Bad economic times tend to increase voter turnout,” said Kevin Hill, a political science professor at Florida International University. “This is a wide-open race with no incumbent, and that also increases interest and turnout.”

In an addition choosing a president, voters will be electing members of Congress, the state Legislature and local offices. There also are local and state issues, including a question to change the Florida Constitution to ban gay marriage.

Registered voters can vote early at any polling location in their county, unlike Election Day, when people must vote at their designated precincts.

Voters can request absentee ballots through Oct. 29.

Because of its convenience, voters increasingly have turned to early voting since it started as an experiment in 2002. But election officials warn there will be lines, particularly the weekend before Election Day. Lines are expected to be even longer on Nov. 4, when 1 million people are expected to vote in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Election officials said people can ensure voting at the early voting sites goes fast if they fill out a sample ballot beforehand and resolve any questions about registration in advance, such as updating their address. Voters also must remember to bring photo identification that has their signature.

Local campaigns for both John McCain and Obama, as well as both major political parties, are promoting early voting. Phone calls, fliers and e-mail are going out with reminders, and plans are under way for early vote rallies and marches to the polls.

“We really do want people to early vote,” said David Sullivan, voter protection director for Obama’s Florida campaign. “It will help them avoid longer lines. And, secondly, they’ll be helping their neighbors by allowing those people to get in and vote with shorter lines on Election Day.”

Chip LaMarca, chairman of Broward County’s Republican Party, said the party has a similar strategy. “It’s a lot easier to vote early considering the length of the ballot and the number of people who will be voting,” he said.
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Staff writer Brian Haas contributed to this report.
Scott Wyman can be reached at [email protected]

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