First day of early voting breaks records in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties

Monday was the first day of early voting in 52 Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties, while several other counties are scheduled to begin early voting on Tuesday.

The turnout was nothing short of historic. Many voters waited outside polling places before they even opened to cast their ballot.  

According to Hillsborough County elections officials, 2,000 people voted in the first hour.

With this much enthusiasm surrounding the election, it was no surprise that some Bay Area elections officials celebrated record-breaking days.

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"We want to make sure our vote counts so we decided we'll start early," said Cheryl Berger outside the polling location at Sarasota Square Mall.

Her husband Charlie Berger agreed, "I wouldn't miss it."

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To make sure your vote counts, there are several things to know about early voting in Florida and voting by mail in 2020. Here is county-by-county information about voting deadlines and methods in the Tampa Bay area.

The first day of early voting welcomed a massive turnout and, at some polling locations, long lines like those we saw wrapped around Bloomingdale Library. Meanwhile, Sarasota Square Mall saw waits of over an hour. Voters at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall reported two-hour waits. It was the same story at Keel Library in Tampa, following an internet outage.

However, those wait times seemed to be the exceptions. Other polling locations like Amalie Arena and Raymond James Stadium reported no waits at all.

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"We had at least 100 people at 6:00 this morning," said Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, describing the scene outside the main office on Falkenburg Road.

Huge turnout meant record-breaking days for Hillsborough County which counted more than 24,000 early votes, as well as Pinellas County, which had more than 8,300.

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"People are enthused about coming out and we've seen a brisk response today," Latimer said.

Some stopped by early voting sites to drop off mail-in ballots. Of the more than 5.7 million ballots requested in Florida, 2.5 million have been turned in so far.

That includes 1.2 million Democrats, who have a return rate of 47.2%. It also includes more than 757,000 Republicans, with a return rate of 42.1%. GOP leaders have promised a red wave on election day, itself.

FOX 13 analyzed vote-by-mail numbers from 2016, comparing them to what we've seen so far in 2020. As of Friday, Highlands, Pasco and Sarasota Counties had exceeded their 2016 totals, with more Bay Area counties on track to do the same.

"A third of our entire voter roll requested vote-by-mail ballots," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections, Brian Corley. "And, what we've gotten back were over 55% plus, already back, which is a great, great trend."

It's an important trend that means more voices are heard.

"We actually had voters lined up at 5:30 a.m. We didn't open until 7:00," Corley said. "And, that speaks volemes. If that doesn't warm your heart to speak about America, I don't know what will."