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Early Voting Numbers Prompt Party Spin

October 29, 2012 - 7:00pm

Nearly 1.9 million Floridians have already cast ballots in what is shaping up to be a razor-thin presidential race in which about one-fifth of the registered voters are not affiliated with a political party.

A surge in the number of voters who say they have no party affiliation was evident following the weekend release of registration data by the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections. The data show Democrats retaining a numeric advantage over their GOP rivals, but the margin has thinned since voters last went to the polls to elect a president.

In 2008, 42 percent of Florida voters were registered Democrats, compared to 36.1 percent who registered as Republicans. For next week's election, the gap has closed to 40.1 to 35.6 percent.

Non-affiliated voters, who in 2008 numbered 2.1 million, increased their relative clout by adding nearly 470,000 more than 22 percent -- to their ranks. No-party-affiliation voters now make up about 21.6 percent, or about one in five voters.

Overall, the number of registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the upcoming election is 11.9 million, up 6.1 percent from 2008.

Republican voters continue to prefer absentee ballots compared to their Democratic counterparts, though that gap is also shrinking. As of Monday morning, local election officials had received nearly 1.4 million absentee ballots, with 50 percent of those coming from registered Republicans.

Democratic voters accounted for 39.5 percent of the absentee returns, with voters affiliated with other parties and NPAs making up the remainder.

In early voting, the roles reverse. Democrats made up 49.1 percent of the more than 528,000 voters who cast ballots over the weekend. Republicans made up 28.6 percent.

Both parties said the numbers bode well for their candidates. Democratic operatives touted their party's lead in the overall pre-election tally, a slim margin of 42 percent to 41 percent.

"Democrats overtake GOP in ballots cast," a post on the state Democratic Party website boasts.

"So the Democrats might crow about a very slight edge in total returns, but it is nowhere near the numbers that they need to run up to be in position for victory on Election Day," the Republican Party of Florida responded Monday.

Local supervisors said the pace of early voting was brisk over the weekend, but they cautioned that it is impossible to compare the turnouts of 2008 and 2012. In 2008 early voting started in most counties on a weekday instead of this year's weekend kick-off. Also, the number of early voting days has been cut from 12 to eight.

"We're really talking apples and oranges," said Amber Smith, an election official in Osceola County.

In Duval County, 38,925 voters cast ballots over the weekend; more than cast early ballots during the entire two weeks of early voting in 2010, a nonpresidential year.

In Collier County, 180,000 voters had cast ballots by Sunday, with Republicans going to the polls or submitting absentee ballots by more than a 2-1 margin.

More than 54,000 ballots were cast in Broward County over the weekend.

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