Camps Tell Floridians to Vote Early

The deciding votes in this critical battleground state could be cast long before President Bush (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) make their final pleas to voters.

Election offices across the state will open Monday to give voters the option of casting their ballots ahead of time.

Some groups are urging voters to cast paper absentee ballots because of concerns over the state's new touch-screen voting machines (search) and any potential recounts. Others are touting that early voting option as a chance for busy voters to avoid waiting in line Nov. 2. And with few voters still undecided, both campaigns are emphasizing it in a bid to dramatically increase voter turnout.

Early voting was introduced after the 2000 election, in which Florida decided the results by only 537 votes and introduced topics such as butterfly ballots and hanging chads.

Across Florida, Democratic college students planned to camp overnight at election offices to be the first in line Monday. Members of the state's congressional black caucus scheduled visits to five cities over four days to emphasize early voting and voter protection.

Both presidential campaigns planned rallies, mass mailings and telephone campaigns to call attention to early voting.

"It's going to be changing the way candidates campaign because they have to get their message out to people two to three weeks earlier than in the past," said Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore, who has record requests for absentee ballots this year.

Election officials say although the early voting efforts create more work in a busy election year, they're pushing for voters to get to the polls and make their voices heard any way they can.

"As long as people vote, we're happy," said LePore, who lost her re-election bid in August. "But if something really bad happens about a candidate two days before an election, you can't change your vote."