Buoyed by the hype and excitement befitting a historic presidential election -- and Florida's status as a key swing state -- voters across the state on Monday are expected to flock to the polls for the first day of a two-week early voting period.
''It just makes it a lot easier,'' said Miami voter Beba Sardina Mann, who hurried to her polling place during the August primary but found the doors locked -- even though her watch read 6:59 p.m., giving her one minute to vote.
This time, she said, "I'm just going to get it out of the way early . . . it's too important of an election.''
Begun in 2002, early voting in Florida is now an oft-used convenience -- along with a make-or-break time for many political campaigns. Yet that does not mean voters won't encounter lines, with a recent Pew Charitable Trust report suggesting the switch to optical-scan ballots may slow down early voting.
Lines or no lines, early voting in Florida is ''going to dramatically improve turnout,'' predicted Steve Hildebrand, deputy campaign manager for presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
Hildebrand said hundreds of thousands of African-American and under-35 voters stayed home during the 2004 presidential race, and ``this early voting period allows us two weeks to really encourage and motivate these voters.''
Though popular with voters in both parties, Democrats have typically taken advantage of early voting at slightly higher rates than Republicans in Florida. Absentee voting, meanwhile, is where Republicans have long held a decisive advantage.
The South Florida AFL-CIO will kick off Monday morning with a pro-Obama rally in Overtown, followed by march to the polling place at downtown's Government Center building.
Later in the day, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek will hold two separate early voting rallies -- one in Miami Gardens, the second in Hallandale Beach.
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