ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida ended up not being so crucial after all.
The country’s largest swing state shunned the national spotlight Tuesday night, stubbornly holding on to its 29 electoral votes as Republican Mitt Romney conceded and President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech.
By Wednesday, Florida was still undecided and, for once, unimportant.
After months of being told over and over that it would be essential to a White House victory, Florida took too long to count the ballots and the race was simply too close to call.
Odella Puryear of St. Petersburg hoped Florida would tip the presidency in Obama’s favor as it did in 2008, but she didn’t get her wish.
“I thought that was sad,” she said. “Also, why did everybody wait until the last minute to vote?”
The never-ending lines may have made it seem like everyone waited, but actually, about 38 percent of the votes were cast early. Some absentee ballots were dropped off at the last moment, slowing the state’s tally.
As of Wednesday, Obama was winning 49.8 percent to Romney’s 49.2 percent.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said more people should vote by mail.
“I thank everyone who stood in line. Your vote was not in vain,” she said. “You never knew how this election was going to turn up. We could have been today discussing ‘Oh my gosh, when is Florida’s vote going to come in?’ And it could tip a balance for a candidate or against a candidate.”
That was the case in 2000, an election marred by a lengthy recount of dimpled ballots and hanging chads. The Supreme Court declared Republican George W. Bush the winner by a scant 537 votes.
The margin between Obama and Romney was much more than that, but thousands of votes still had to be counted.
Susan McManus, a political science professor at University of South Florida, said that while Florida wasn’t particularly relevant Tuesday, it’ won’t always be that way.
“That chemistry can change from one election to another,” she said. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be an election with a competitive state like Florida that won’t be a hard-fought place.”
Some voters dismissed the idea that the Sunshine State has no electoral cache.
“No I don’t think it was irrelevant,” said Mike Ugart, who works in orthopedics. He said he waited three hours to vote in the Miami neighborhood of Country Walk. “Every last vote counts for the future. We gotta have it. It’s part of our process. I’m not disenfranchised with Florida. We are lucky we can vote.”
Anna Neill, 35, an attorney from Miami, said she felt the same, saying she was anxiously waiting Wednesday to make certain Obama won the state.
“It’s very important to me that Florida is blue,” she said.
Neill helped with the Obama campaign in the final three days of the election, canvassing door to door and last night at a polling station.
Wendy Wheaton, 37, voted in Santa Rosa County on Florida’s Panhandle, which also was later than most in counting ballots. She said Americans just don’t want to wait for results anymore.
“If you look back even 20 years ago, counting the votes was so much slower than it is now with today’s technology,” she said.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)