Wednesday’s Obama campaign event comes in the final stretch of the campaign, where the candidates and their wives are stumping in Florida weekly. On Thursday, the president is scheduled to give a speech at the University of Miami before heading to a downtown Miami fundraiser with actress Eva Longoria, his campaign’s national co-chair.
Democrats made absentee-ballot voting a higher priority this election after Republican legislators, in 2011, shortened the days of early voting from a maximum of 14 to a maximum of eight.
In addition to cutting back on the early-voting days, the Legislature eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day.
“Many African-Americans would go and vote on that day after going to church,” said Marie Zaret, a 66 year-old Democrat from Hialeah. “I think this was done to keep them from voting.”
Republicans say the early voting changes, part of the law that included the language concerning constitutional amendments, was designed to give county elections officials more flexibility. Democrats say it’s simply voter suppression.
Though the total number of early-voting hours is the same under law — 96 — it’s actually fewer hours than were available in 2008. The total early voting hours reached 120 then because Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order requiring the polls to stay open for an extra four hours daily to accommodate all of the early voting, much of which broke for Obama, who won must-win Florida and therefore the White House.
“You’re seeing the Democrats make a push for more absentee ballot voting because they have to,” said Brett Doster, a Florida advisor to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign. “We’re confident, that, by Election Day, we’ll have a comfortable lead with absentee ballot votes.”
Democrats are leading slightly in the crucial I-4 corridor counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Orange counties. They have smaller leads in the Democrat-heavy counties of Broward and Miami-Dade.
Republicans are dominating in North Florida, rolling up comfortable leads in Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa and Duval counties.
For its part, the Obama campaign says it’s sure that it will narrow the absentee-ballot gap and will dominate on early voting days. It points to a massive volunteer army that has registered hundreds of thousands of new voters — 113,202, and counting, in the last 15 days before voter registration was closed.
By Election Day, Democrats will hold at least a 5 percentage-point edge over Republicans in registered voters.
To beat the expected crowd, Miami Democrats like Wayner showed up at 11:15 a.m., waited in line and was out of the Doral-based elections office by 12:20 p.m. Wednesday.
"This was pretty easy and I know my vote counted,” Wayner. “That’s why I showed up and did this now."