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Floridians Head To Polls, Nearly Two Million Voted Early

Daylina Miller/WUSF News

Voters are showing a lot of interest in Florida's 2018 Primary.

State officials report almost 2 million early voting and mail-in ballots have been received – surpassing totals from previous years.

Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer said his office received more than 134,000 ballots prior to the polls opening this morning.

“We've already surpassed the 2014 total election numbers,” Latimer said. “But keep in mind we've also added 100,000 voters since 2014.”

Latimer said the popularity of early voting is a trend. In the 2016 General Election, 71 percent of the ballots in Hillsborough were cast prior to election day.

And if you are one of the more than 1 million Floridians who requested a mail-in ballot and haven't used it, you can still vote.

Statewide, 1.2 million Floridians have already mailed in their primary ballots, but an even larger number -- 1.3 million -- have not been returned.

It’s too late to go to the mailbox. Instead, you need to drop it off at your election supervisor's office. Or you can go to your polling place where they will nullify the ballot and let you vote regularly.

Voters around the state

Hillsborough County voter Sheila Ross says she's noticed an increased interest in the primary election.

“There's just more general awareness in the news and there's more people being involved, which is great. I think that's awesome. I wish everybody voted every time."

Ross was dropping off her mail-in ballot at the elections office on Falkenburg Road because she prefers to personally hand-in her ballot instead of mailing it.

“I got jury duty yesterday and I was selected so I'm like double civic duty today. I'm voting and then I'm on a jury today,” Ross said. “Makes me very proud to be an American.”

A University of Miami political science professor says he voted for Gwen Graham in Florida's Democratic primary for governor because he believes 2018 is the year of the woman.

Gregory Koger also said he believes Graham will make the strongest candidate in November's general election. After casting his ballot on Tuesday, the 47-year-old said it was a tough choice because there were "a lot of good candidates" in the Democratic primary.

He said he believes Graham can "help turn out a lot of voters, make people feel enthusiastic and provide a nice contrast in the race." Graham is the daughter of former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham.

Koger cited Medicaid expansion as another reason he selected Graham because he feels it is "life or death for thousands of Floridians." He says it's "ridiculous" that Florida has been rejecting Medicaid expansion "so that the Republican legislators can have a personal talking point."

President Donald Trump's endorsement played a major role in Josie Parke's decision to vote for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida's Republican primary for governor.

The 68-year-old interior designer and architect from Coral Gables says she believes DeSantis is a "true Republican." After casting her ballot on Tuesday morning, Parke said she believes in Trump's policies and that DeSantis is also "a very conservative person."

While Parke said she supports the president, she added that she doesn't "love the way he opens his mouth too much, sometimes saying things that are not quite appropriate."

DeSantis is running against Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam in the Republican primary.

For Christi Lane Fritz and Kevin Fritz, the most important issues on their minds as they went to vote at a senior center in downtown Orlando were gun control and the environment.

They wanted to see a ban on the bump stock, waiting periods for gun purchases, tighter controls on assault weapons and stricter background check on gun buyers. Keeping the waters around the Florida peninsula free of oil rigs was at the top of their list "for tourism, for one thing, and our general health," said Kevin Fritz, who runs a communications firm.

The Orlando couple had a hard time deciding on the Democratic gubernatorial candidate since several of the five candidates shared so many similar positions. They settled on Gwen Graham within the last few days.

"There wasn't so much a defining factor as much as going with my gut," said Christi Lane Fritz.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.