TALLAHASSEE — Election night in Florida is usually a very long night, but this year, things may move faster.
Time will tell, literally.
When legislators rewrote the election laws last year, they required county election supervisors to report early voting totals and counted absentees to the state within 30 minutes after the polls close.
Election supervisors must also send updated totals to the state every 45 minutes until all of the results are in.
"It shouldn't be a problem at all," said Seminole County elections chief Mike Ertel. "We generally upload them as soon as the polls close, and we report absentees all in one batch."
"That's not an issue for us, and I doubt that it is for many other counties," said Pinellas County supervisor of elections Deborah Clark.
That's because counties are constantly updating the election results on their own websites, she said. "Every time we update our website, we also update the state," Clark said.
In the nation's largest battleground state, every major news organization in the country will be closely monitoring Florida's returns all night long.
So many voters already have cast their ballots early or by mail — more than 4 million — that the early numbers in Florida probably will account for about half of all ballots cast.
Polls in the state close at 7 p.m. But if you track election results on the state elections website, most Floridians will have to wait an extra hour.
That's because a dozen North Florida Panhandle counties are in the Central time zone, and polls there will be open an hour later than in the rest of the state.
State election officials say they will not report election returns until the polls throughout the state have closed. People will be able to track the results in counties in the Eastern time zone beginning at 7 p.m., however.
Statewide results will start to come in an hour later, and all the early and absentee votes should be reported by about 8:30 p.m. — even if people are still waiting in line to vote in the Panhandle, said Chris Cate, a spokesman for the state Division of Elections.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.