Ballots Already Being Cast for Florida GOP Primary

GOP Voters in Florida begin casting their ballots

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Even though Florida's GOP presidential primary Election Day isn't until Jan. 31, more than 86,000 voters have cast their ballot in the race, according to state Republican officials.

They are also expecting that by next week, the early votes by Sunshine State residents will exceed those cast in Iowa.

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"All those early voting opportunities are opportunities for the voter to be swayed by what's happening ahead of Florida and at the same time, there's television starting here, there's organizational pushes, there's mail," says Brian Hughes, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida.

Hughes says voters in Florida can begin requesting absentee ballots up to 30 days before Election Day, and it's become a significant means for voters to weigh in.

"In 2008, it did well and in 2010, it really hit another plateau and there's no reason to expect it won't happen again this year as well," he says.

Who is the candidate appearing to take the most advantage of the early voting system? Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

[See photos of the 2012 GOP candidates.]

When someone requests an absentee ballot, and the request has been fulfilled by the state, both become public record. Hughes says the state party has been tracking all the numbers daily and so far, more than 425,000 voters have requested ballots.

"(Romney's campaign) is tracking it as well, and mailing as soon as someone makes a ballot request," he says. "So usually within about 48 hours of requesting a ballot, you have a piece of mail from Romney asking for a vote."

Romney, who recently headed to South Carolina to campaign ahead of their Jan. 21 primary, is heading to Florida Thursday for a noon event before returning to the Palmetto State. Hughes says Romney is also winning support from Florida residents thanks to his early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.

[Read: GOP race heats up in the south.]

Hughes says he expects the GOP voter turnout will exceed that of 2008, in both early voting and overall numbers.

"From the earlier report that we're doing internally, we're trending more than 200,000 ahead of the same day in 2008 for absentee requests," he says. "We think that points to absentees being ahead of where it's ever been, we think that early voting is going to be substantial and we think that overall, when it's done, we'll have a record GOP turnout."

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