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Twenty Percent of Florida Voters Vote Early

Officials in Florida say early voting has been a resounding success and will ease lines on Election Day when a record turnout is expected at the polls.

These supporters of Democratic Senator John Kerry were in a boisterous mood on Monday as they waited in line to cast early ballots at Miami's city hall. There were long lines just one day before even longer lines are expected at voting booths.

Just down the line from Senator Kerry's supporters were an equal number of supporters of Republican President George Bush. While both sides sought to drown out the other's chants, election officials say early voting was peaceful throughout the county.

Election officials say by the time the polls open on Tuesday, as many as two million Floridians, or about 20 percent of all voters in the state, may have already cast their ballots. This voter, Natalie, who declined to give her last name, says she appreciates the anonymity of early voting, which allows voters to cast their ballots anywhere in their home county, rather than only at their local voting station.

"You get it out of the way," she said. "You go in and vote for whoever you like, just get it done, instead of having to wait in line with so many people you know, who all say "hey how are you?" So I have no complaints. I am just glad I came in and did it."

In Miami-Dade county, nearly 300-thousand voters will have voted by Election Day. Seth Kaplan the spokesman for the Miami-Dade Elections Department says everyone is pleasantly surprised by the huge early turnout, which he says will help on Tuesday.

"Well we did not know what to expect. Certainly we hoped for it [large turnout] because each person who votes during the early voting period, well that is one less person to wait in line on Election Day," he said. "So we have been encouraging early voting. It provides a level of flexibility that voters do not have on Election Day. They can vote at any one of 20 sites throughout the county any day of the week, whereas on Election Day they have to go to their assigned polling places."

While elections officials in Miami-Dade County were congratulating themselves on Monday on the success of early voting, officials in Broward County, just north of Miami were grappling with last minute problems associated with thousands of absentee ballots that never reached voters. County officials worked around the clock last week to re-send about 60-thousand absentee ballots after many voters said they never received them.

Broward Country Elections Supervisor, Brenda Snipes says elections workers are doing all they can to make sure voters are not disappointed on Tuesday. "There is a staff of professional election workers, you can meet any of them, and we have a plan in place to put the elections on, and that based on our ability and our knowledge of the process and of the information and equipment that we have available, the election is going to work," she said.

County officials say that they will accept absentee ballots that are post-marked by the time voting is expected to end on Tuesday. However they acknowledge that as many as two thousand ballots were mailed as late as Saturday, making it impossible for some voters who live outside Florida to fill them out and get them post-marked by the time the polls close Tuesday evening.