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EARLY VOTING STARTS TODAY

Nearly two years after campaigning began, the time has finally arrived to make your pick for president - as well as cast votes in other federal, state and local races.

That's right. Early voting begins today in Florida. Early voting became available in 2002 as part of state election reform legislation to prevent long lines on general Election Day.

During these two weeks, registered voters can go to any designated early voting site to cast ballots. Polls will be open Monday through Saturday through Nov. 1.

Here's what you should know before you head to the polls.

What you need to vote

Bring a picture ID with a signature, such as a Florida driver's license, U.S. passport, student ID or credit card. If the picture identification doesn't include a signature, you will have to provide something else with your signature. If you do not have the proper ID, you can cast a provisional ballot that will be counted once your identification has been verified.

What to expect

If you haven't voted since the 2004 presidential election and live in a county that formerly used touch screens, you might have your first encounter with the new optical scan voting system. This involves using a pen to fill in ovals on a paper ballot and feeding the ballot into a scanner. State lawmakers mandated the machines in 2007 to create a paper trail for elections. Fifteen counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco, had to trash their touch screen machines to make the switch.

How long will it take?

When you get to the polling site, election workers will have to print out a ballot customized to the precinct you live in. That will take some time. Kathy Harris, general counsel for Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, said to plan on spending about eight minutes filling out the ballot. Harris has encouraged people short on patience to vote via absentee ballot to avoid lines and waits altogether.

In Hernando County, hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday at these locations:

- Main Elections Office, 20 N Main St., Room 165, Brooksville

- Branch Elections Office, 7443 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill

- - -

In Pasco County, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at these locations:

- East Pasco Government Center, 14236 Sixth St., Dade City

- Central Pasco Professional Center, 4111 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Room 105, Land O'Lakes

- Hudson Regional Library, 8012 Library Road, Hudson

- New River Branch Library, 34043 State Road 54, Zephyrhills

- West Pasco Government Center, 7530 Little Road, Suite 110, New Port Richey

- Village Market of Wesley Chapel, 5325 Village Market

- South Holiday Branch Library, 4649 Mile Stretch Drive, Holiday

Democrats lead in voter registration

Stunning numbers are in the final voter registration report released Sunday. Democrats head into the election with 657,775 more voters in Florida than Republicans. They added more than 200,000 to their advantage just since July.

When George Bush won Florida by 381,000 votes four years ago, Democrats had a registration advantage of 368,757.

Now, of course, the 657,775-dollar question is whether the Obama machine can turn out all those voters.

Adam Smith, Times staff writer

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