The US justice department is scrutinising the conduct of early voting in Florida after people waited for hours in some places to cast a ballot and the state governor, Rick Scott, refused to extend voting beyond Saturday.
The justice department said it is monitoring some polling stations to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which bars states from placing obstacles in the way of balloting after the Florida legislature cut the number of early voting days in a move Democrats said disadvantaged Barack Obama's supporters. Elections in Florida have attracted particular scrutiny since the 2000 debacle which delivered George Bush into power.
As hours-long lines once again formed in some parts of the state for the final day of early voting on Saturday, opinion polls were at odds on how the crucial swing state will decide. A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald pollput Mitt Romney six percentage points ahead, 51% to 45%. But an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey gave a small advantage to Barack Obama.
The contradictory polls reflected the uncertainty of a heated competition in the state that has seen early voting rise dramatically compared to four years ago and supporters of both candidates saying they voted to keep the other out.
But the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald survey also confirmed that many swing voters, particularly Hispanics, have been drawn to Romney by economic desperation and a belief that he will be better able to create jobs.
About 3.5 million Floridians had voted early by Friday — either by post or in person. That's about 30% of the state's electorate and a dramatic increase on 2008 when 2.7 million voted early.
About 1.39 million of the early voters are registered Republicans and 1.47 million are Democrats.
However, that doesn't necessarily reflect how they voted. Both parties gave differing interpretations of the the figures - totals of postal voting and people who turned out early in person — to claim the advantage. What the turnout and long lines at polling stations did clearly show is how strongly some people feel about this election.
Florida voters have faced long lines all week to vote early, with some people queuing for five hours, in part because the ballot runs to several pages, with proposed constitutional amendments as well as electing a president, members of Congress and local officials, and it takes a while to fill it out even if people are fully prepared.
But Democrats say another reason for the extended lines is that the Republican legislature cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight to discourage Democrats, who are more likely to vote early, from going to the polling stations.
One particularly blatant move was to scrap voting on the last Sunday before election day when many African Americans in Florida traditionally go to the polls after church. - GNS