MIAMI (AP) — Florida voters queued up before dawn Tuesday to cast their ballots as long lines began forming at some precincts across the state.
Some isolated problems were reported as voters in the largest swing state chose between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. They also made selections for Congress and the Legislature, chose whether to retain three state Supreme Court justices and decided 11 state constitutional amendments. There were also local races.
“This election is too important to not be able to vote,” said Darlene Drawdy, 45, a small business owner voting in Port Charlotte. Only Romney’s campaign signs greeted Drawdy and the restaurant workers, pest control technicians, retirees and men in business suits in line outside the southwest Florida precinct.
“I can’t afford to take off two hours from work to stand in line, so I got here early,” Drawdy said.
More than 4.5 million people — about 38 percent of the electorate — had already voted in Florida, either by mail or in person, before the polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, state officials said. Of those voters, 43 percent were Democrats and 39 percent were Republicans. There are nearly 12 million registered voters in Florida.
Multi-page ballots, high voter turn-out and a shortened early voting period contributed to long lines of voters snaking outside many polling precincts before early voting ended Saturday. A judge in Orange County extended early voting at one location Sunday because it had been suspended the previous day after a suspicious package was discovered. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties opened their elections offices Sunday to accept absentee ballots.
Anyone in line when the polls close at 7 p.m. local time will be allowed to vote Tuesday, officials said.
In Pinellas County, hundreds, possibly thousands, of automated calls reminding voters about Election Day polling hours were recycled and placed Tuesday morning to voters, telling them that they had “until 7 p.m. tomorrow” to vote. The calls originally were made Monday to voters who had requested mail ballots but had not yet returned them.
Pinellas elections officials said the calls went out again Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. because of a glitch in the phone system. It wasn’t clear how many of the 12,000 calls in the queue went through. Nancy Whitlock, elections spokeswoman, told the Tampa Bay Times that a second message was quickly sent out to tell voters to disregard the previous, incorrect call. Whitlock did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
Around the state, at a handful of voting sites there were reports of computerized counting machines breaking down. The uncounted ballots were being put aside to be counted later.
In North Miami, one voter packed a lunch in case the wait to vote stretched into mid-day or longer, a lesson learned from her attempts to vote early last week. Voters who didn’t think to bring drinks or snacks flagged down a Haitian woman selling chicken patties, juice and coffee.
Jean Dulcio, a 50-year-old chef, tried to vote early twice last week in North Miami but gave up his place in line as the wait times dragged on. He came back Tuesday, toting an iPad so he could listen to Haitian radio.
“I don’t worry today at all,” he said. “If I have to spend all day, I will. Today is the last day.”
Dulcio, a registered Democrat, hoped to see Obama re-elected. “He brought the troops back and killed (Osama) bin Laden,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”
In Hialeah, Milly Herrera made a point of voting Tuesday because she believes voting early or by absentee should be reserved for the elderly and the disabled, who might have more trouble voting with the Election Day crowds. A voter with no party affiliation, she planned to vote for Romney for president, along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat running against Republican Connie Mack.
“There are some issues where I support the Democrats and then there some issues, like small business and the economy, where I would support the Republicans,” she said.
New ballots had to be delivered to a Palm Beach State College precinct after it was discovered that the first pages were misprints with the wrong precinct numbers.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said voting got off to a smooth start statewide, though one woman in Escambia County fell and broke her leg in one precinct’s parking lot. The woman voted before being taken to a hospital.
Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy contributed to this report from Hialeah, Fla.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.