The national political spotlight now shines on Florida. After Super Tuesday this week, the candidates seeking their party's nomination for president have flocked to the Sunshine state.
Early voting ahead of Florida's March 15 presidential preference primary begins Saturday in Manatee County at five locations and ends on March 12.
The sky-high interest in the Republican and Democratic races can be seen in the number of mail-in ballots, easily besting the figure in the 2012 primary.
The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office reports some 10,500 Republicans and 7,000 Democrats have already returned their absentee ballots out of the more than 40,000 that voters requested. Around 25,500 Republicans and 14,000 Democrats received absentee ballots.
This reflects a robust democracy. The GOP contest is garnering the most attention and media coverage nationwide since it's so heated. Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are on the ticket. Florida's 99 Republican delegates all go to the winner.
Make your vote count.
Voters should be sure to follow all the rules and complete the mail-in form, else their ballots be deemed invalid.
Mistakes include the lack of a signature or signing a ballot with a name that does not match the one on file at the elections office. Voters should update their signatures if their names changed since the last election. Ballots with mismatched signatures are handed to a three-member canvassing board, which decides whether a ballot is valid or not.
There's still time to request a vote-by-mail ballot. The deadline is March 9.
Voting by mail in a primary can be tricky business if sent in too early. Candidates with few followers drop out of the race.
Take Jeb Bush, for example. The former governor remains popular in Florida. But he suspended his campaign after falling flat in the early state primaries and caucuses. A mail-in ballot with his name selected is a lost vote.
William F. "Rusty" Russell can attest to that, as his letter below outlines. He'll never vote early again.
Whether heading to an early voting site or waiting until election day, people must possess valid identification and their current addresses must be on file with the elections office. If there's a mix-up, voters will be casting a provisional ballot, one that might not be counted.
Votes lost to avoidable errors diminish elections. Voting is a privilege that should be taken seriously and responsibly.
Early voting sites
All open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily from March 5-12
Supervisor of Elections office, 600 301 Blvd. W., 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, 7617 Third Ave. W., Bradenton