In Tampa Bay's two most populous counties, the mailed ballots are stacking up at election supervisors' offices. And early voting, especially in Hillsborough County, is off to a roaring start.
In Pinellas County, 52 percent of the approximately 269,000 ballots mailed to voters were returned by Friday afternoon.
At the same point in the election cycle two years ago, 42 percent of voters had returned their ballots. During the last midterm election in 2010, just 34 percent had been received.
Hillsborough has also seen heavier volumes of mail voting and early voting. Early voting, which started Thursday, has seen 15,706 votes cast — about twice the 2010 level — said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office.
And 81,838 mail ballots have already been returned in Hillsborough, more than in the entire 2010 election cycle, she said.
Officials don't know why the increase has occurred, but welcome it. "When things are spread across all three methods (Election Day voting, early voting and mail ballots), things are more predictable and efficient," Kramer said.
Early voting begins today in Pasco and Hernando counties.
The alternative voting methods have political implications across the state.
The growing popularity of voting by mail means absentee ballots could be a bigger factor than usual. Voting absentee generally has favored Republicans in statewide elections, while early voting has been more popular with Democrats.
Republicans are outpacing Democrats in returning mail ballots, but their advantage is smaller than it was in 2010.
By today, early voting will have begun in all 67 counties, and both major candidates for governor are rallying supporters to vote early.
Gov. Rick Scott is in the midst of a bus tour in which he is promoting early voting, and will visit Jacksonville, Orlando and Lakeland today. Democrat Charlie Crist will attend early-voting rallies in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Deltona and Orlando.
Florida has 11.9 million voters, and this is the first statewide general election in which a majority of votes are expected to be cast before Election Day, Nov. 4.
The heavier volume hasn't caused any problems so far, said Deborah Clark, Pinellas County's supervisor of elections.
In fact, the elections staff said the number of rejected ballots — which have to be vetted by staff and a canvassing board before being voided — is lower this year. So far, 37 ballots have been rejected for various reasons. They might have been improperly signed or the signatures didn't match those on file. A little more than a week before Election Day, that figure is likely to rise, but likely won't reach the 302 voters that had their ballots thrown out in 2012 or the 547 tossed in 2010.
Probably the most common mistake? Voters printing their name on the ballot when they had signed their name in cursive on their voting registration form or other voting records.
Once the three-member canvassing board throws out a ballot, the voter has no way to appeal.
"I don't agree with that law. I don't see any reason to reject them if there's still a possibility of straightening it out," Clark said.
So far, the board has reviewed 237 ballots that staff had deemed questionable and accepted 84 percent of them.
"Anything close goes to the voter," said Jason Latimer, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office spokesman.
Contact Charlie Frago at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.