TALLAHASSEE — Florida shattered its opening day record for in-person early voting Monday, with at least 350,000 people casting ballots and election officials continuing to count statewide late into the night.
The trend continues a record-setting pace in the battleground state that is viewed as a must-win for President Donald Trump. Voting by mail, which started earlier this month, racked up more than 2.5 million ballots headed into Monday, more than double the 1.2 million during the same timeframe in 2016.
More than 350,000 voters, some of whom were treated to pizza by singer Ariana Grande while they waited in line, easily surpassed 2016 numbers when 291,000 people voted on the first day of in-person early voting, which includes 52 of Florida’s 67 counties. All counties begin early voting on Saturday.
Democrats have a significant pre-Election Day lead, built by a more than 450,000 vote-by-mail lead, through Monday, but Republicans insist they are just “cannibalizing” their in-person vote. Put another way, they say Democrats are not gaining additional voters, but that voters in candidate Joe Biden’s party are just changing how they participate because of Democrats’ greater emphasis on voting by mail during a global pandemic.
“Democrats know they can’t compete with our unrivaled ground game,” said Trump Victory spokesperson Emma Vaughn.
Kamala Harris, a California senator and Biden’s running mate, held in-person rallies in Orlando and Jacksonville to boost enthusiasm on the first day of in-person early voting.
“Today I had to come here on kickoff of early voting in Florida, because y’all are going to make it happen,” Harris told an audience in Orlando. “What you will do here in Florida … by early voting is you will be the first to put our country back on the right track.”
Her Florida rally locations were not accidental. Orlando is in the middle of the fabled I-4 corridor, a 19-county swath of the state notoriously packed with swing voters. Jacksonville, on the other hand, has long been Republicans’ home turf, but for the first time in recent political history was won by Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections, an outcome they hope to replicate in 2020.
Trump’s campaign, which has blanketed Florida with surrogate appearances in recent weeks, held “Team Trump On Tour” bus events throughout conservative North Florida, including stops in Pensacola and Tallahassee that featured Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican and top Trump ally.
“Today is really the start of our get out the vote movement, with our supporters wanting to vote in person, or turn their absentee ballots in person at voting locations,” said Leon County GOP Chair Evan Power, who attended the Trump events. “We are confident that our voters will turn out between now and Election Day to support the President and our Republican team.”
Early in the day, there was anecdotal evidence across the state that signaled there could be record turnout. Lines formed in some of Florida’s largest counties before polls opened at 7 a.m., even as rain soaked portions of South Florida.
In Broward County, Parkland Mayor and incoming Democratic state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky posted a video of long lines at a polling site in that county, one of Florida’s bluest.
“It is the longest line I have ever seen at early voting in Parkland,” she tweeted.
Pinellas County, a bellwether that has voted for every winning presidential candidate but one since 1980, also quickly amassed record-setting numbers.
“Over 6,300 people have voted so far in Pinellas County during a record-breaking first day of early voting!” Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus tweeted at 3:30 p.m.
The Orange County Supervisor of Elections office tweeted just before 4:30 p.m. that it had already seen more than 11,000 votes with more than two hours to go. In 2016, the county saw 16,912 total votes on the first day of early voting.