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Half of registered Floridians have voted as Election Day looms

With only days left before the end of in-person early voting, Republicans have cast 2.8 million ballots to Democrats' 3 million, according to state data posted Thursday morning.

Nearly 7.4 million Floridians have now voted in the 2020 general election — more than half of the state’s 14.4 million active registered voters.

With days left before the end of in-person early voting, Republicans have cast 2.8 million ballots to Democrats' 3 million, according to data posted Thursday morning by the Florida Division of Elections. Voters without a party affiliation, who make up about a quarter of registered voters, have cast 1.5 million ballots.

The total number of Floridians who have cast ballots so far is nearly triple what it was before the start of early in-person voting last week.

Republicans have seen their vote totals surge the most since the start of early in-person voting, followed by voters not affiliated to a party. It’s possible that Republicans and Democrats may be about equal in total votes cast before Tuesday’s Election Day. Much will happen before then. Turnout this weekend — including with events like Souls to the Polls — is expected to climb.

Related: Campaigns, volunteers push to get Tampa Bay voters to the polls

Party turnout numbers may not completely reflect which candidates voters are choosing. The large number of voters who aren’t affiliated with a party also don’t help clarify how the presidential race will go in the country’s largest swing state.

Sumter and Collier counties, both more heavily Republican, have seen the highest overall turnout so far, with 72 percent and 67 percent of registered voters in those counties casting ballots to date, respectively. Both counties had turnouts of more than 84 percent four years ago.

Both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have surpassed the 50 percent mark in voter turnout. Pinellas had a turnout of 77 percent and Hillsborough had 72 percent in 2016.

Among the 10 largest counties in the state, all but Miami-Dade have seen higher rates of Democrats turning out than Republicans so far. In Miami-Dade County, 53 percent of registered Democrats have voted compared with 59 percent of Republicans.

It’s possible that Election Day will see strong Republican turnout, given that Republicans have shown more of a preference than Democrats for in-person voting this election season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There are also nearly 1.8 million vote-by-mail ballots that have been requested and not yet returned, including more than 730,000 requested by Democrats, 550,000 from Republicans and 460,000 by no-party-affiliated voters.

Vote-by-mail ballots have to be received by county elections offices by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 in order to be counted.

At this point, elections officials and get-out-the-vote groups are urging people with mail ballots to drop them off at their elections offices or at official drop boxes rather than put them in the mail.

While it’s possible that a mailed ballot will arrive on time, experts have repeatedly cautioned that one of the main reasons a mail ballot ends up not getting counted is because it arrives to be counted too late. The U.S. Postal Service itself has suggested that voters put ballots in the mail a full week before deadline.

Questions persist about how well the Postal Service is moving first-class mail. While Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said that election mail will be prioritized, the Postal Service continues to struggle to meet its service targets. On Tuesday, the rate of on-time delivery of first-class mail fell to 71.2 percent in Florida’s Suncoast district, which includes Tampa Bay, according to data provided as part of litigation in the federal District Court of the District of Columbia. In recent weeks, the Suncoast district had average on-time rates for first-class mail in the high-80 percent range.

Average on-time rates in the South Florida district have averaged a bit lower than in the Suncoast region, according to court data.

Elections officials in Florida are working to keep up with the vote-by-mail ballots they’re receiving so there are fewer outstanding ballots to be processed on Tuesday. Pinellas County’s canvassing board canceled its meeting scheduled for Thursday after it finished dealing with ballots during its Wednesday meeting.

“We’re in a good place. We’re all caught up,” said Dustin Chase, spokesman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

Nationwide, at least 77 million people have already voted in the general election, according to data compiled by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor.

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

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HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on early voting locations, rules for voting by mail and more.

AMENDMENTS: State constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, explained.

FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.

MAIL-IN BALLOTS: So you want to vote by mail in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.

WHY A FLORIDA CITY’S BLACK VOTERS BEAT NATIONAL AVERAGES: Turnout is 10 percent over the national average. That’s been true for generations. The story of Chester James Sr. helps explain why.

POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?

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