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Florida voters head to polls early, impact outcome long before primary day

 

Florida officials say in excess of 225,000 voters have already cast a ballot in early voting ahead of the state's Jan. 31 presidential primary.

Early voting across all 67 counties in Florida began Saturday, 10 days before the election, and ends on Saturday, three days before the vote. As much as 40 percent of the vote will have been made by Election Day, officials predict. The state elections board said so far nearly 37,000 people have gone to the polls while the rest of the votes have come from absentee ballots.

While many Republican voters in the Sunshine State were waiting to see the results from South Carolina, those who have made up their minds already, in particular senior citizens, are taking advantage of the lack of crowds to go to the polls. 

The close battle in South Carolina has clearly raised the stakes in Florida, where its 10 major media markets will require millions of dollars for television advertising.

Professor Susan McManus, of the University of South Florida, said a Newt Gingrich win over rival Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican primary starts a "brand new game" in Florida. 

"I think that you're going to see a massive amount of media, television, radio, robocalls, mailers because I believe you'll see the super PACs and the candidates -- to the degree they still have money -- just going for broke in Florida," McManus told Fox News. 

Keenly aware of past voting problems, including a 2000 presidential election that led to a Supreme Court decision resulting in Florida certifying the vote in favor of George W. Bush, state election officials say they expect everything to go smoothly this year.

"We moved to an optical scan, which is a paper-based system, in 2006," said Brenda Snipes Broward County elections supervisor. "We did have the touch screen machines prior to that. But this is a system that the voters like. It makes them feel very confident about their vote, and it's been working really well for us."

Romney aides told Fox News that by Election Day they will already have roughly half of their votes in in Florida. 

Despite the high technology, there are nine names still on the ballot. While Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are the only remaining candidates in the contest -- five others have dropped out -- the ballots were designed last year.

Fox News' Steve Harrigan, Serafin Gomez and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.