The Big Day is Finally Here! Polls Open Across Crucial Florida

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UPDATED 6:45pm by Julie Montanaro

A close presidential race and a couple of hotly contested local ones are fueling high turnout in Leon County.

38% of voters cast ballots before the polls even opened and that number could top 80% by the time the polls close at 7.

Celebration Baptist Church was one of the busiest precincts in Tallahassee - with turnout topping 60% before 10am.

"As it should be," Bill Frieder said with a laugh.

The voting machine there couldn't scan ballots fast enough. The elections supervisor sent a second machine there to try to shorten lines inside.

Additional machines were also sent to FAMU's Grand Ballroom, Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist and Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

A neck in neck race for president is the big draw.

"I just went democrat all the way," Tim Costume said.

"I like Romney," first time voter Mary Mahler said.

"I'm really excited to hear about the presidency because I feel like that's going to make a major change in a lot of things," voter Kiana Thomas said.

"I'll be up late waiting for the president even though I didn't vote for either one of the prime candidates," Donald Harris said.

A handful of local races also motivated voters. Voters mentioned hotly contested races for Congress, State Attorney and city and county commission as well as a half penny sales tax referendum for Leon County schools.

"We need a good superintendent. We need good leadership and we need education for our kids," Joann Blake said.

"The local ones are very important. That decides what direction our city's going to go in, which direction it takes us in," Sandy Frieder said.

The Jack McClean Community Center was another of the county's busiest precincts Tuesday.

Someone complained about a poster of President Obama hanging inside. The supervisor of elections says it was part of an exhibit, not a campaign sign, but it was taken down within 30 minutes.

There were reports of a heckler harassing voters at one precinct and sign wavers getting too close at another.

If you had to wait during the morning or lunch rush, don't be dismayed. Governor Rick Scott had to wait in line for 40 minutes to cast his ballot today too.

Some notes from precincts across the state: a robo call reminding folks in Pinellas County to vote went out a day late and encouraged folks to cast ballots tomorrow. The elections supervisor there blames it on a phone glitch.

And proof that Floridians are determined to make their votes count: a woman in Escambia County fell and broke her leg in the parking lot at her polling place. Her husband carried her inside and she cast her vote before going to the hospital.

UPDATED 2:45pm by Julie Montanaro

The assistant elections supervisor confirms that a poster of President Obama was hanging inside one of the county's busiest precincts today.

Janet Olin confirms someone reported the poster hanging at the Jack McLean Community Center around 1 o'clock today. It was taken down within 30 minutes. Olin says she was told the poster was part of an exhibit, not a campaign sign.

UPDATED 2:30pm by Julie Montanaro

Longer ballots are creating delays at some of Leon County's busiest precincts.

Assistant Elections Supervisor Janet Olin says it is taking longer for the voting machine to scan the two-sided two-card ballots.

Olin says they are sending a second voting machine to some of the busiest precincts to try to shorten lines: FAMU's Grand Ballroom, Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, Celebration Baptist Church and Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

UPDATED 1:55pm by Julie Montanaro

Leon County could break records this election day.

It has already broken its early voting record with 45,118 people casting ballots.

Another 27, 707 have voted by absentee ballot so far.

That means 38% of all registered voters in the county voted before the polls even opened.

The supervisor of elections is projecting turnout between 80 and 83% by the time polls close tonight.

Celebration Baptist Church, Jack McLean Community Center and TCC are among the busiest precincts with turnout topping 60% before ten in the morning. Precincts at the Woodville Community Center, Premier Fitness and Good Shepherd Church were not far behind, the assistant supervisor said.

Most voters we talked to said the race for president was the big drawing card today, but others said the penny sales tax for Leon County schools was also important to them.

Florida polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning but before that, almost 100 people lined up at the Bradfordville Baptist Church.

R.W. Carr arrived at 6:20 a.m. to be first in line to cast a ballot.

"I just wanted to be as quickly as I could you know or I would be in a line all the way into Tallahassee," laughed Carr.

After the initial wave of voters, lines seemed to disappear at that polling location making things seem business as usual. For many seasoned voters this election is just another year, but for some doing it for the first time, that can be an exciting event.

Moses Martinez says volunteers cheered when he told them he was a first-time voter.

"If you know what you're reading about then it shouldn't be that difficult," said Martinez.


"They're taking at least a half an hour for other people it's 10-15 minutes." Elections officials say anyone in line when the polls close at 7 p.m. local time will be allowed to vote Tuesday.

State officials say more than 4.5 million people have already voted in Florida, either by mail or in person. Officials say 43 percent of those voters were Democrats and 39 percent were Republicans. Long lines of voters snaked outside many polling precincts before early voting ended Saturday.

There are nearly 12 million registered voters in Florida.

Florida is poised to play a crucial role in picking America's next president. Florida has 29 electoral votes in Tuesday's election and both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have worked hard for them.

AP-WF-11-06-12 1306GMT

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