Two edgy presidential races, early birds, fine weather, and a controversial property tax measure brought Floridians to the polls yesterday.

In rural Okeechobee County, elections official Gwen Chandler reported that by midafternoon Tuesday 28% of registered voters had cast ballots. In 2004, only 10% of Okeechobee voters cast ballots in the presidential primary, and in 2000 only 8%.

Chandler told the Treasure Coast Palm, “I think the tax issue is driving the ballots a whole lot.” Amendment 1 would, among other changes, double the property tax exemption on homesteads. It passed with the support of 64% of Florida voters. Nine of the state’s 29 rural counties opposed the amendment. (For more on that measure, see this explanation.)

Ida Elliott, assistant supervisor of elections in rural Franklin County, told the Tallahassee paper that “turnout was close to 40 percent late Tuesday afternoon — higher than the historic 25 percent or so for primaries.”

This was the first presidential primary that permitted early voting, and in rural Sumter County nearly a third of registered voters had cast ballots before Tuesday’s polls opened.

Proportionately, exurban voters (in counties surrounding urban centers) had the highest turnout — 41%. In the 29 rural counties, there was 38% turnout, 36% in urban precincts.

Florida’s early primary focused more national attention on the race and likely boosted Tuesday’s voting, even as it put in jeopardy the seating of the state’s delegates to the national presidential conventions. Democratic Party chair Rosemary Anderson of Putnam County, also rural, told the Palatka Daily News she thinks U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will manage to have the Florida delegates reinstated soon.

The candidates will want Florida’s support at the convention,” said Anderson. At the request of the national party, Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign for the primary here.

Douglas Carmen of Highlands Today spoke with several frustrated voters in rural Central Florida. “As far as presidential candidates go, former Massachusetts governor and Republican candidate Mitt Romney is Sebring builder James Matthews’ pick. Highlands Ridge resident Barbara Younts thought New York Sen. Hillary Clinton would bring back the economy of the 1990s that she enjoyed.

“There was just one problem for Matthews and Younts. Matthews is a registered Democrat, and Younts a life-long Republican, and both of them knew they couldn’t really vote for their top choices today.”

To vote in Florida’s primaries, you must be registered Republican or Democrat and may only vote in your own party’s primary.

“‘I have to vote for Romney,’ said Younts, who thought he was the ‘lesser evil’ in the party. In 2000 and 2004, she voted for President George W. Bush, and she’s banking on her husband Paul, a Democrat, to vote for Clinton for her.” Matthews declined to say which Democrat he would support.

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