Long lines. Lots of patience. Loads of enthusiasm.
The first day of in-person early voting started Saturday and — if the lines around the block and the passion of all the voters are any indication — it means that President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have fired up their bases and are in the tightest of races in the nation’s biggest battleground state.
Even before in-person early voting began, Floridians were already voting — by absentee ballot. More than 1.2 million have been cast, and Republican-cast absentee ballots outnumbered Democrats’ by about 5 percentage points.
That GOP edge, though, will soon be wiped away by Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the state by 536,000 voters and who typically prefer in-person early voting rather than casting absentee ballots.
Not every in-person early voter is a Democrat, though.
At the West Kendall Branch Library, where voters waited up to two hours or more to cast ballots, 39-year-old Gonzalo Rodriguez, a Republican, was eager to vote for Romney.
“I think we need something else in the office,” said Rodriguez, a second generation Cuban-American from Kendall.
Rodriguez, who voted for John McCain in 2008, also voted for Connie Mack in the U.S. Senate race. “I just like him,” he said.
A high proportion of early voters are African-American, who overwhelmingly vote as Democrats.
Ozzie Flowers, a 59-year-old from Miami, decided to participate in a hybrid early voting program pioneered by the Obama campaign called, “Vote Now!”
The campaign encouraged its supporters to request an absentee ballot but to drop it off in person at the elections office, instead of putting it in the mail or waiting for Saturday’s official start of early in-person voting when 20 sites opened in Miami-Dade County and 17 in Broward County.
“I wanted to put the ballot in the machine myself,” Flowers said at Miami City Hall. “I don’t trust the mail.”
Flowers was accompanied by fellow Democrat Tony Abreu, 37, who bore a large sign that said “Tell yo’ mama to vote for Obama.”
At the Miami polling spot, Democrat Liza Smith chanted a song: “Steal my vote. Steal my vote. Ain’t gonna let nobody steal my vote.”
Voting was so heavy that, by 3 p.m. in Miami-Dade, 14,745 people had voted — exceeding the number of first day early voters in 2008 when 12,000 cast — ballots. By day's end in Miami-Dade, 22,625 early voted in 12 hours.
The candidates are continuing to focus on Florida. On Saturday, Romney stumped across the state in Pensacola, Kissimmee and Land O’Lakes. Obama returns to the state Monday for an Orlando rally with former President Bill Clinton.
On Saturday, throughout Miami-Dade and Broward, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Bishop Victor Curry and other black pastors held rallies and reminded black voters that the GOP-led Legislature reduced early voting days — including the Sunday before Election Day voting — when African-Americans turned out in force in 2008.
They plan to rally Sunday as well for a “Souls to the Polls” series of events. Expect the lines to be long there as well. Early voting will continue until next Saturday, Nov. 3. Polls are open daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
One reason lines are long: The ballot’s long and takes up to 70 seconds to print for each voter.