Early voting (finally) begins in Florida

  • Rep. Janet Cruz leads a march to the West Tampa public library

Although more than a million of the 12 million eligible Florida voters have already cast ballots, the official beginning of early voting started Saturday morning throughout the Sunshine State.

Early voting was adopted in Florida in 2002, in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential recount election. It's a trend that has grown nationally and been extremely popular in Florida, especially with Democrats. But it's starting five days later than usual, thanks to the controversial election reform bill passed last year.

The use of voting by absentee ballot has always been an option, but has usually been the province of Republicans. That's not the case in this extremely tight election season, with the Obama For America team strongly encouraging its targeted voters to exercise that opportunity.

The Democrats' not-so-secret weapon has always been early voting in Florida, so today there were various events to kick-off the start of it, including in West Tampa, where state House Democrats Janet Cruz and Betty Reed led a group of about 20 people to go to vote at the West Tampa public library.

"It's the sad reality of voter voter suppression. They succeeded," Representative Cruz said about HR 1355, the elections bill passed by the GOP-Legislature in early 2011 that among its various provisions, reduced the days of early voting from 14 to eight.

While Republicans have said they did not cut the maximum number of hours that elections office could offer early voting (96 hours), in fact local elections offices are all over the place in terms of the number of hours they will be open. Just 35 of the state's 67 counties are offering the full 96 hours available for early voting. Hernando County is offering just 62 hours, the fewest in the state. The elections supervisor there says he can't afford to pay workers overtime to keep the polls open longer.