FLORIDA — Democrats are betting a boost in voter registration and questions about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will help former Vice President Joe Biden hold on to a slim lead over President Donald Trump as Florida voters cast their ballots Tuesday.
The state's 29 electoral votes are crucial for the winning candidate to reach 270 Electoral College votes.
Voters are headed to the polls Tuesday to make their choice in the presidential election, U.S. House and state constitutional amendments. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. If you are in line by 7 p.m., you are allowed to cast your ballot.
While poll workers reported some Election Day lines when polls opened at 7 a.m. in Tampa, turnout was much lower than anticipated. Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer attributed it to the record number of residents who followed his advice to vote by mail or vote early.
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, 34,956 voters cast their ballots at one of 390 precincts in Hillsborough County while more than 600,000 people voted by mail or voted early, said Latimer.
"Most of my neighbors voted by mail," said Mary Spencer as she left the Port Tampa voting precinct around 9 a.m. "I was the only person in there voting."
Florida is a key battleground state in this presidential election, and both candidates have campaigned hard in the Sunshine State in the final weeks leading up to Tuesday. Trump was in Opa-Locka on Sunday night, which violated Miami's midnight curfew. He said Democrats are worried that their purported early lead will fizzle.
Aides handed out masks and hand sanitizer to members of the crowd who wanted them.
Trump expressed frustration that the surging cases of the virus — which has killed more than 231,000 Americans so far this year — remains a top headline, which prompted chants of “Fire Fauci” from his supporters.
“Don’t tell anybody but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump replied, reported NBC Miami.
The former vice president slammed the packed rally.
"This rally isn’t for Floridians; it’s to fuel his own ego, with no regard for the issues working Floridians face every day," Biden said. "The good news is the end of President Trump’s failed leadership is near. Floridians have the power to make a change through your vote."
The latest RealClearPolitics average of polls, released Monday, showed Biden with a 1.7 percentage point lead over Trump in Florida, 48.3 percentage points to 46.6.
At a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday, Trump said it was dangerous for states to continue counting ballots after Nov. 3, even though election law in many states gives voters several days for their ballots to arrive if they are postmarked on Election Day.
Florida election officials have been sorting and opening mail-in envelopes for weeks before Election Day. Unlike other states, Florida requires mail ballots to be received by Election Day.
All early votes and mail ballots are tabulated in advance and should be released about 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, said Mark Ard, communications director at the Florida Department of State.
"If the election is decisive enough, we should be able to call Florida on election night," University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
But the pace of sorting and counting all those ballots will take more time in some parts of Florida. If the election is close, it may be Wednesday or Thursday before the Florida winner is determined, NPR reported.
Latest Election Polls
A Quinnipiac poll released Monday said 47 percent of likely voters support Biden, while 42 percent support President Donald Trump.
Nationally, Biden has a double-digit lead, with 50 percent of likely voters supporting him to only 39 percent for Trump, Politico reported.
The final Emerson College poll before the election finds Trump has 45 percent support in the state, with Biden ahead at 51 percent. Two percent of voters plan to vote for someone else, and 2 percent are undecided.
The majority (51 percent) of Florida voters disapprove of the job Trump is doing, while 45 percent approve of the job he is doing, the Emerson poll said.
Voters were asked how much of a public health threat they think coronavirus is; the majority (53 percent) think it is a major threat, while 26 percent say it is a moderate threat, 14 percent think it is a minor threat, and 7 percent think it is no threat at all. The majority (82 percent) of those voting for Biden think it is a major threat, while a plurality (42 percent) of those voting for Trump think it is a moderate threat.
How to Vote
When voting in person on Election Day, voters must bring a current and valid ID with their name, photo and signature. Acceptable IDs include a Florida driver's license, a Florida ID card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a United States passport, a debit or credit card, military ID or a student ID. Find a full list of acceptable IDs here.
It's important to remember that while your voter information card has lots of useful information about your voter registration, including your assigned precinct and polling location for Election Day, it isn't an acceptable form of ID.
If you're not certain where you should vote, you can look up your voting precinct online here. For your vote to count, you must vote in the precinct in which you reside.
Vote-by-mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Though it's too late to return your vote-by-mail ballot using the U.S. Postal Service, you can still drop off your mail-in ballot at the Supervisor of Elections office in your county. Remember to sign your ballot and make sure that your signature matches the one you have on file with the elections office.
If you've requested a mail-in ballot but would rather vote in person, you still can. Simply bring your ballot (marked or unmarked) to your polling location to turn it in. Then you can vote using a regular ballot.
If you don't bring your vote-by-mail ballot with you, the Supervisor of Elections office will need to confirm that your ballot hasn't already been submitted and counted. If they determine it has been received, then you won't be able to vote again. If you think the office is incorrect or if it can't be determined if your mail-in ballot was received, you can request a provisional ballot.