Florida is at the forefront of offering citizens multiple voting options.
a) You can show up at your precinct’s polling place on primary day, Jan. 31.
b) You can vote early, until Jan. 28, at city halls, libraries and other designated locations.
c) You can vote absentee, typically returning your ballot by mail.
Early voting is offered in 32 states and the District of Columbia, allowing voters to cast a ballot in person during a specific time frame that varies by state. All 50 states allow absentee voting, though 21 require that you have a legitimate excuse not to queue up on Election Day.
In Florida in 2008, 54 percent of the November vote was cast before Election Day, thanks to early and absentee voters. Texas took the title of highest percentage of early voters — 66 percent.
In Florida, the mean age of GOP early voters in 2008 was 58; for Democrats it was 55 and for independents it was 52, according to the Early Voting Information Center.
“By making voting more convenient, perhaps people are more likely to vote,” says Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures. But if you vote really early, she points out, “you might wind up changing your mind before Election Day arrives.”
Indeed, 180,000 absentee ballots in Florida had already been returned to the elections division (of 475,000 sent out) even before Newt Gingrich scored his upset victory in South Carolina.
Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, said that older voters in the state take advantage of their options. The average age of the Florida primary voter is 66. “Older voters turn out early because they’re well-read and they’re extremely informed,” she says. “Sometimes they don’t want to go to polling places. It’s also convenience. Florida senior voters are younger, healthier, wealthier and a bit better educated.”