TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Voters across Florida, the battleground state that could tip this year’s elections, streamed to the polls on the final day of early voting ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Spurred on by the frenzied campaign put on by both major candidates, nearly half of Florida’s 12.9 million registered voters had already cast ballots even before the final push that came on Sunday.
Pastors aligned with Democratic leaning organization held “souls to the polls” events across the state, designed to encourage African-American churchgoers to vote. President Barack Obama visited Kissimmee in central Florida, where during a rally he exhorted those who had not yet voted to get their relatives “off the couch” and get them out to vote.
“I love you Florida, let’s finish the job,” said Obama to a crowd of roughly 11,000, while campaigning for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
So far nearly 48 percent of all registered voters in Florida had already either voted at an early voting site or voted by mail, according to the latest numbers reported by the state Division of Elections.
Democrats had a slight edge of nearly 33,000 votes over Republicans with just one day of early voting left. Of 6.15 million votes cast, 2.4 million votes have come from registered Republicans, compared to more than 2.43 million votes from Democrats. More than 1.16 million voters registered with no party affiliation have also voted.
While many counties around the state have already wrapped up early voting, it was still going on Sunday in 16 of Florida’s 67 counties, including some of the state’s largest. The Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had polls open, as will Pinellas, Hillsborough and Orange counties along the strategic Interstate 4 corridor.
Republicans continued to do their own final push for voting as well. GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence visited Panama City Beach, while Republican nominee Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Sarasota on Monday as part of a four-state sweep on the eve of the election.
Even though Republicans are now trailing Democrats, David Chiokadze, a spokesman for Trump’s Florida’s campaign, said in an email to reporters that Republicans trailed Democrats by a much wider margin heading into Election Day back in 2012. Chiokadze also pointed out that there was a higher percentage of Republicans voting in this election than four years ago.
Part of the drive to increase turnout came from Democrats who held early voting rallies in more than a dozen locations throughout the state. The event in Tallahassee, which drew several hundred participants, was part political rally, part street carnival as organizers grilled hamburgers and sausages and handed out snow cones to participants. Roz Booker was on hand with members from her church for the event and she said that while the election was a “mess” that she had voted because people had fought and died to win the right to vote for African-Americans.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke to the crowd, evoked the chaotic 2000 presidential election that was won by George Bush after the U.S. Supreme Court halted a statewide recount that had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
“This time we will vote again with so many votes they can’t take them away,” Jackson said.
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