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updated 11/1/2004 2:02:21 PM ET 2004-11-01T19:02:21

More than 1.8 million Floridians have cast their ballots through early or absentee voting _ nearly 2 1/2 times the number of people who voted early in 2000.

Polling places were packed Saturday as people continued to stream in to vote early, with some localities reporting lines several hundred deep and waits up to four hours.

At a mall in Broward County, Patti Bryant voted at 1:25 p.m. _ 3 hours, 55 minutes after she got in line.

"We have to make a change. This election is key," she said. "It's too important for people not to vote, so I was prepared to wait for however long it took."

With early voting still available at polling stations Monday _ and about 1.6 million requested absentee ballots still outstanding _ officials expect the number of early voters to easily surpass 2 million.

"It looks like the All-American tradition of voting on Election Day is going out the window," said Fred D. Galey, elections supervisor in Brevard County.

Since the polls opened on Oct. 18, Democrats and Republicans alike have pressed their die-hard supporters to vote early in Florida, a critically important electoral state where polls suggest the presidential race is a dead heat.

Political rallies end with shuttle buses headed to the polls. Speeches include exhortations to vote early. And nonprofit groups are renting vans to carry voters to the polls.

In Miami-Dade County, which has the state's second-largest voter population, officials project about a third of registered voters will cast their ballot before Election Day. In Washington County in the Panhandle, more than 20 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots by Thursday.

In all, the early turnout is more than double the 720,453 ballots cast before Election Day in 2000, when early voting wasn't an option in most places.

Many states are reporting high turnouts of early voters, thanks to a close presidential race and a new federal voting law.

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In Texas, the secretary of state announced Saturday that more than 2.4 million Texans had already cast ballots in the state's 15 largest counties, representing 30 percent of those counties' registered voters. The state's early vote totals are 58 percent higher than they were in the 2000 election.

Many Floridians said they prefer early voting because it gives them more confidence their votes will be counted.

Odette Derosier, a Haitian immigrant who voted for the first time in 2000, said she went to the polls early because "everybody says if you vote early you've got more chance."

"The other time I vote, my vote maybe goes in the garbage," said Derosier, who lives in Miami. "Now, I'm satisfied."

Still, problems were still cropping up across the state.

In Lee County, elections officials were besieged by complaints from hundreds of voters who hadn't received absentee ballots they had requested mostly through political parties and other organizations.

Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington said her office didn't know exactly how many ballots had been sent out in response.

Other counties are fielding similar complaints, including Broward County, where officials this week sent thousands of replacement absentee ballots by overnight mail. Another 2,500 absentee ballots were rushed to the post office Saturday afternoon, leaving little time for those ballots to be returned and counted for Tuesday's election.

"We're working very hard," Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes said.

Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog, said Saturday it received more than 7,500 calls from Floridians with voting trouble issues.

___

Associated Press Writer Mike Branom contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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