Early voting opens today across the state and will continue until Nov. 1, allowing Florida voters who can't wait to throw their support behind President Bush or Sen. John Kerry to begin casting ballots.
At election offices, libraries and city halls across Florida, workers will hand out ballots and staff voting machines for voters who don't want to hold off until Nov. 2.
And with Florida in the midst of a fevered presidential battle, election supervisors are expecting a crush of early voters.
"I think it's going to be very, very busy," said Susan Scatliffe, customer-service manager with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office.
Florida's early-voting law allows residents to cast their ballots up 15 days prior to Election Day. Votes aren't counted until the polls close Nov. 2.
The law -- prompted in part by the 2000 election controversy -- requires that early voting be offered at election offices eight hours every weekday and a total of eight hours on weekends. Elections supervisors have the option of designating libraries and city halls as additional early-voting sites.
This year, early voting has emerged as one of the primary messages of activist and grass-roots groups seeking to influence the election.
Both Kerry and Bush will be in the state today, a marker of Florida's significance in the 2004 race for the White House and of just how strategically important early voting is to both major political parties.
And other groups are spending an unprecedented amount of effort -- and money -- to turn out votes in Florida for the candidate they support.
They know that every vote is crucial in a state that gave Bush the White House in the disputed 2000 election by a mere 537 votes.
By beating the Election Day rush, those groups think it will be easier to ensure that every vote is counted. It will also allow them to track who voted, so they will know whom they'll need to prod when Election Day arrives.
"It helps us say, 'This is one sure vote,' " said Allan Oliver, the state campaign director for the pro-Kerry League of Conservation Voters. "That's not somebody we have to call or worry about."
Today, labor groups and community activists will march in an "Early Voting Counts" rally in Miami while Kerry attends similar events in West Palm Beach, Tampa and, this afternoon, Orlando.
Bush also will commemorate the first day of early voting by returning to the state tonight for a Republican fund-raiser in Boca Raton before heading to New Port Richey and The Villages for rallies Tuesday.
Both camps are working hard to get their voters out.
Wednesday, the Central Florida Young Democrats will hold a Beat Bush Early Voting Event at a club in downtown Orlando.
Throughout the early voting period, Democrats will run the "Come Vote With Me" program, encouraging people to take five friends -- and fellow voters -- with them when they cast a ballot.
The Bush-Cheney campaign has similar strategies.
During the weekend, the president kicked off the GOP's "Walk the Vote" campaign, a national door-to-door effort in which party volunteers -- officials predicted more than 1 million -- descended on neighborhoods throughout the country.
One of the messages they spread was: Vote early.
Today, Republican officials follow that up with a series of news conferences across the state encouraging people to go to the polls before Election Day. The party will also sponsor rallies, do mailings and canvassneighborhoods.
"We look at this as an opportunity, because we have that many more days to reach voters and get them to the polls," said Mindy Tucker Fletcher, a senior adviser with the Republican Party of Florida. "For some people, it's a lot more convenient."
Tucker Fletcher said early voters tend to be more interested in the race than those who wait. So both parties will get a sense of how their bases are responding by monitoring who heads to the polls early.
In past years, early voting meant voting by absentee ballot. But now, residents can go to an early-voting site, fill out a ballot and feed it into the voting machine.
Scatliffe said that minor difference is important to some voters.
"People like it, because they see the ballot being placed in the tabulator," said Scatliffe the Orange County elections official. "They like being able to watch it go in."
Dave & Soozi
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Jean Jacques Rousseau 1712 - 1778 Emile, or Education
I wish that practising was not
So different from preaching
John Godfrey saxe, Wishing
Mayor Bloomberg (New York City)said it best: "The only thing you ever know about security measures is when you didn't take enough."
WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing WITH you.
The Declaration of Interdependence
We pledge allegiance to Life,
and to the planet on which we live,
one world, interdependent,
with Truth and Enlightenment for all.
May Love grant us the serenity to
accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Benestrophe is being here now!