The pace of the election campaign in Florida will intensify Monday as early voting gets underway across most of the state.
Early voters will be greeted by poll watchers, partisan get-out-the-vote workers and TV crews as democracy emerges from the privacy of the kitchen table, where mail ballots are cast, to the bustle of the public realm.
In Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and elsewhere, early voters will flock to libraries, city halls and community centers, swelling the statewide vote total after more than 1 million people have already cast mail ballots.
In Manatee County, there will be five locations, including the Supervisor of Elections Office at 600 301 Blvd. W., No. 118 in Bradenton. Each site will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this week and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. next week. Early voting ends Nov. 5, three days before election day.
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Twelve hours a day is the maximum early voting time allowed by the Legislature, which reduced early voting to eight days for the 2012 election in what critics called a partisan Republican effort to suppress Democratic turnout in a state both sides need to clinch the White House.
The Legislature reversed itself in 2013 and expanded early voting to up to two weeks and at more locations following a nationwide furor in 2012 in which some voters waited in line for up to seven hours to cast ballots.
“I believe we’re going to have a very robust early vote,” said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, who added that he would offer early voting for 15 days if the state law allowed it.
Broward, the state’s most Democratic county and the home of the longest ballot in the state, could see a busy early voting period.
Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said she offered the maximum 168 hours of early voting hours to give voters the most opportunity.
“That’s what this process is all about,” Snipes said. “It’s up to the voter to take advantage of it. I won’t have anybody saying, ‘You didn’t extend to 14 days or give us the maximum number of hours.’ ”
Pinellas County, which aggressively promotes voting by mail, has early voting at five sites. Sarasota has seven sites, and Hillsborough has 16.
All locations are listed on election supervisors’ web sites.
Statewide, 50 of 67 counties will begin early voting Monday, with the rest starting later in the week. Every county must offer early voting by Saturday.
Early voting traditionally has been most popular among Democrats, but the party has ramped up its efforts to get more people to vote by mail this election.
For that reason, early voting may attract fewer voters statewide than four years ago.
In the 2012 presidential election in Florida, 28 percent of all ballots, or nearly 2.4 million, were cast at early voting sites.
Another 28 percent voted by mail and 44 percent voted on election day, according to the state Division of Elections.
Most supervisors of elections expect voting by mail to surpass early voting in this election.
“I do think early voting is going to be strong, but more people are voting by mail,” said Citrus County Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill. “It’s very convenient, and it’s popular all over the county.”
Many Democrats in Florida got a letter from President Barack Obama urging them to vote by mail.
As a result, Democrats have virtually wiped out the Republicans’ historical advantage in the return of mail ballots in Florida. Through Friday, more Democrats than Republicans had been sent mail ballots — another new trend.
“We want to do well in all facets of voting,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.
The Hillary Clinton campaign called on all 67 counties to offer the maximum amount of early voting under law.
But county election supervisors resisted. Facing limited budgets and small staffs, they say that they tailor their early voting schedules to meet the wants and needs of their voters.
All counties also are scrambling to cope with a backlog of applications from new voters in an extra week that was ordered by a federal judge because of Hurricane Matthew.
In addition, the judge also ordered counties to give mail ballot voters with mismatched signatures another chance to produce a signature that will ensure that their votes be counted.
The start of early voting also will reveal whether any of those more than 86,000 new voters will have to cast provisional ballots because their applications have not been processed.
Information from Herald staff was used in this report.
Early voting sites in Manatee County
Supervisor of Elections Office — 600 301 Blvd. W. No. 118, Bradenton
Palmetto Library — 923 Sixth St. W., Palmetto
Rocky Bluff Library — 6750 U.S. Hwy 301, Ellenton
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall — 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
West Manatee Fire & Rescue Administration — 6417 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton
Voting sites are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 23-29, then 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 30-Nov. 5.