Early voting begins Monday with a record number of Florida Keys voters expected to cast ballots before Election Day on Nov. 4.
More than 5,000 people already had voted via mail-in ballots returned to the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections office as of Friday.
About 13,500 voters requested they be mailed ballots -- an all-time county record -- in advance of the November general election, Elections Supervisor Harry Sawyer Jr. said. As of Friday, Monroe County had 50,183 registered voters.The voting pace picks up Monday when five early-voting sites open.
Nearly a fourth of the ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election in Monroe County were submitted before Election Day, Sawyer said.
"I expect even more this year as people discover how convenient it is," Sawyer said. "If you're walking by [an early voting site], there's no reason not to walk in and vote instead of making a special trip on Election Day."
The presidential contest between John McCain and Barack Obama has spurred the interest in this year's vote, which also includes numerous local races for Monroe County Commission, sheriff and state attorney, among other offices.
In 2004, 77 percent of eligible Monroe County voters cast ballots in the presidential election.
"Any time you get over 75 percent, that is remarkable," Sawyer said. "I think we'll get anywhere from 75 to 80 percent turnout this year."
Just since Oct. 1, more than 1,000 new voters have registered in Monroe County.
"Yes, you could say that's something of a surge," Sawyer said.
According to the most recent numbers, about 38 percent of registered Monroe County voters are Republicans, and 36 percent are Democrats. About 22 percent don't declare any party affiliation and 4 percent register in other parties.
Thirty-seven new voters have been flagged by the state Division of Elections as not having addresses that match previous records. All have been contacted by the local elections office to advise them.
"We will do everything we can to make sure these people's ballots count," Sawyer said. "If they show up on Election Day, we'll do our best to take care of it."
The 37 challenges, he added, "is not really a significant number."
If discrepancies in a voter's record are discovered on Election Day, voters will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Elections staff investigates the cases on Nov. 5.
All voting in Monroe County this year returns to the AccuScan paper ballots. Electronic voting will be allowed only for those with disabilities.
Early voting sites are at all three Supervisor of Elections offices, and at libraries on Big Pine Key and Key Largo. Sites are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday until Nov. l. Locations are: