A huge increase in early voting has given Democrats a decided advantage over Republicans in Florida -- a major departure from statewide voting trends four years ago, according to a Miami Herald analysis of early and absentee ballots cast so far this year.
Through Thursday, Democrats cast 46 percent of the 3.4 million early and absentee votes in Florida, while Republicans cast 38 percent.
That's a big shift since 2004, when Democrats were outvoted 44 percent to 41 percent by Republicans in early and absentee ballots, according to a study of Florida voting data.
The recent Democratic gains have been most pronounced in early voting, where Democrats have outnumbered Republicans by 432,000 out of nearly two million voters.
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Black voters have made the difference, accounting for 16 percent of the early and absentee voters so far -- with 86 percent of them registered Democrats. In 2004, black turnout for early and absentee voting was a bit more than 10 percent of the total.
Black turnout has been especially high in the state's urban areas. In Broward County, blacks accounted for 39 percent of all early voters at the polls through Thursday; in Miami-Dade County, it was 30 percent. In Orange County, 30 percent of all voters were black; in Duval County, it was 36 percent.
Party affiliations do not necessarily predict voter behavior, particularly in North Florida, where many registered Democrats are philosophically aligned with the GOP. But Democratic Party leaders say the early-voting trends show that they have shaved away the Republican Party's advantages in the state.
By Thursday, early-voting numbers for the state already had smashed the total 2004 turnout by nearly 38 percent. Absentee ballots so far have also exceeded the total cast four years ago.
Already, nearly one-third of all registered Democrats and Republicans in Florida have cast a ballot. Duval elections supervisor Jerry Holland said he expects as many as 45 percent of the state's votes could be in before Election Day.
With similar turnout booms around the country, observers say the election could be historic.