(CN) — Hundreds of thousands of Floridians casting their ballots Tuesday added to an already historic voting turnout in the country’s largest battleground state.
Before polls opened at 7 a.m. on Election Day, over 9 million Floridians already voted by mail or in person during the state’s two-week early voting period – accounting for 63% of all the state’s registered voters.
That is close to the total amount of votes cast in the 2016 election. As the day progressed, several county supervisors of elections reported tens of thousands of voters casting ballots at polling places.
Florida is a must-win swing state for President Donald Trump, who changed his residency from New York to the Sunshine State late last year. The president narrowly won Florida in 2016 by less than 1% of the vote.
Voter surveys in the run-up to the election found Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden in a statistical dead heat with very few undecided voters.
The closeness of the race has led to repeated trips by both candidates to this eternally purple state. Biden’s wife, Jill, made an appearance at a St. Petersburg voting location Tuesday afternoon.
St. Petersburg lies in Pinellas County, which political analysts have dubbed the swing state’s “swing county.” The county’s voters chose the winning president in the last four elections.
“Florida is a very important state,” the former second lady told a small crowd in the historic black neighborhood. “We’re hoping to win it. We’re not taking any vote for granted.”
Trump visited South Florida for a rally late Sunday night, illustrating the importance of the Cuban-American vote in the predominantly Democratic region.
“If Biden wins, then the country will turn more to the left and we do not want that,” voter Eugenio Perez said at the West Dade Regional Library in Miami-Dade County. “I am Cuban, so I come from a communist country, and I don’t want that in the U.S.”
Another fellow voter at the library expressed similar views as he entered the polling place.
“I am voting for Trump,” said Nieves Narvaez, a Miami native. “He is the best candidate. I saw many things that happened during the Obama presidency that I did not like, such as terrorism and a bad economy, so I did not feel safe in the U.S.”
Narvaez, who was not able to vote early due to personal and work-related issues, emphasized that “if Trump doesn’t win, the country would move toward the left, and we could engage in socialism.”
Eight miles away, Melissa Pais voted at the Calusa Elementary School in Miami.
“I am not affiliated to any political party, but I voted for Biden because I think he is the best option between both candidates,” Pais said. “He is offering the kind of leadership that our country needs during these uncertain times.”
Pais said she had no problems voting and that all poll workers were wearing masks and constantly sanitizing.
Roberto Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, said all 866 county precincts are following strict Covid-19 safety protocols.
“However, voters need to do their homework,” Rodriguez said. “They need to wear their masks at all times inside the voting centers, and know in advance who they are voting for to save time in the election process.”
Voters were scarce in several of the polling centers in Miami, and across the state, with little or no wait time at all.
Juan Marquez, a Puerto Rican raised in Miami, could not vote early because he was out of town and then he initially went to the wrong precinct on Tuesday. He said Trump has done a good job.
“Yes, he says stupid things here and there,” Marquez said. “But I feel that he has put the economy [back] where it was.”
He also thinks presidents should have longer term limits.
“I don’t think much can be done in a four-year term,” Marquez said.
At the Kendale Lakes Branch Library, Mayra Rodriguez, a Cuban-American, said she already cast her vote by mail but she went to the polling place to make sure her ballot was received.
“I support the president. I voted for Trump,” she said.
The spokesperson for the Miami-Dade County Elections Department said that all ballots go through a strict verification process and most votes will be counted Tuesday night. Pursuant to Florida law, county elections offices began tallying mail-in ballots on Oct. 14.
Polls close at 7 p.m. in each of Florida’s two time zones. Results will begin to be released at 8 p.m. Eastern to allow for polls to close in Florida's Central time zone counties.
In a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said her department was monitoring election security and “there are no reported issues.”
“Misinformation and disinformation continues to be an active threat and it is essential that voters rely on trusted and verified sources about the election,” said Lee, a Republican. “Do not believe everything you read or see on social media.”
Earlier in the day, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis activated the state’s National Guard to handle any possible security concerns. Some businesses in South Florida boarded up windows Tuesday morning in anticipation of possible protests, according to local news reports.
Lee also said there were only a few “isolated precincts” with technology issues.
“These issues did not prevent any voter from casting a ballot today,” she said.
Political analysts say Trump must win Florida’s 29 electoral votes to remain competitive in his bid for reelection, while Biden has a few other pathways to victory.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on the eve of Election Day showed the former vice president leading Trump 47% to 42% in the Sunshine State.
"Florida, Florida, Florida,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement. “There is some confidence that the votes will be counted in time to declare a winner Tuesday night. As the hottest summer in years lingers, both sides sweat out a final tally that, if it goes Biden's way, could make the rest of the vote count all but irrelevant.”
As of late Tuesday morning, 3.5 million Democrats and 3.4 million Republicans cast ballots early in Florida.
Republicans and those with no party affiliation typically turn out on Election Day in higher numbers than Democrats. So-called NPA voters, roughly 26% of Florida’s registered voters, could tip the balance in this historic election.
One of those voters, Joseph Daniels, walked into his Pinellas Park polling location Tuesday morning still undecided.
“I woke up still trying to figure out what to do,” said Daniels. “I was thinking of not voting. I know I can’t bitch if I don’t vote, but I really don’t feel it.”
A few minutes later, Daniels walked out.
“I voted for Trump,” he said. “I don’t know if I should have, but I did it.”
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