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Early voting shrinks in Florida, absentee balloting grows

Voters wait in line to file absentee ballots outside Orange County Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Florida November 5, 2012. REUT
Voters wait in line to file absentee ballots outside Orange County Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Florida November 5, 2012. REUT

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida voters cast fewer early ballots in the 2012 presidential election than in 2008, but they submitted more absentee ballots than they did four years ago, according to statewide elections figures released on Monday.

Overall, almost 40 percent of Florida's 11.9 million registered voters have already cast their ballots, and registered Democrats had cast 88,314 more votes than registered Republicans through Sunday.

Opinion polls for the November 6 election showed Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney running neck and neck in Florida, where a mere 537 votes decided the 2000 presidential election in George W. Bush's favor.

The early voting period in Florida ended on Saturday, though voters were still submitting absentee ballots at election supervisors' offices on Sunday and Monday.

The state's Republican-led legislature cut the number of early voting days nearly in half this year, leading to long lines where voters had to wait up to 8 hours and complaints that the change in voting rules was part of a Republican effort to suppress Democratic votes.

Republican Governor Rick Scott rejected a call last week to extend early voting by a day.

The data suggests the changes curbed in-person voting at the early polling sites. Florida voters cast 249,974 fewer ballots at those sites in the 2012 presidential election than in 2008.

Democrats, who typically make up a large proportion of early voters, managed only a 167,653 edge over Republicans in the voting at early balloting sites. That was well below the margin in 2008, when Democrats led in early voting by almost half a million ballots.

Republicans have the edge in absentee voting - 79,339 more Republican ballots were turned in than Democratic ballots by Sunday. Absentee voting had exceeded the 2008 totals by 207,308 ballots.

All told, the battleground state entered the final day of voting before the election with 4.46 million votes cast compared with 4.51 million in 2008 - a drop of 42,666.

The total number of registered voters in Florida has risen by 6.1 percent since the last presidential election to 11.9 million.

(Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)

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