| A Tamarac, Florida, voter waits outside a polling venue after the machines were unable to confirm the voters' identity. (Reuters)
Miami, Oct. 18 (Reuters): Early voting for next month's presidential election got under way in Florida today, with Democrats in particular urging supporters to use their advance ballot as a means of avoiding a repeat of the recount fiasco in the 2000 election.
Both Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, have focused a large part of their campaign effort in Florida. The state decided the election for Bush four years ago only after a bitter five-week legal battle over ballot recounts and is again one of about 10 tightly fought states in the race toward the November 2 election.
Kerry began today's campaigning with a rally in West Palm Beach in southeast Florida: one of the cities at the centre of 2000 debacle because many voters were confused by the ballot design used by their county.
Early voting, with limited polling stations open for people wanting to avoid a crush on Election Day, was starting around the state at different times. 'We have had pretty good crowds at all the early voting sites,' said Gisela Salas, an elections spokeswoman in Broward County north of Miami, noting that 50 people were in line at one site when the doors opened. 'We have had no problems, thank God,' with the machines, Salas added.
In 2000, the US Supreme Court eventually halted ballot recounts and Bush beat Vice-President Al Gore by 537 votes, and so won the Electoral College votes needed to clinch the White House.
The punchcard voting machines that created legal turmoil in some counties over what constituted a valid vote were dumped in an overhaul of the state's elections system after 2000, replaced in some areas by touchscreen voting machines similar to automatic teller machines at banks.
In downtown Miami, about 500 people gathered at a morning rally organised by unions and voter protection groups, outside the Miami-Dade County government centre that was one of the early voting sites. Hip-hop music blared, along with chants of 'let's go vote.'
'Today we want to get the word our that we're here... and the message that we want to get out is that voting isn't a hassle despite everything people might have read in the newspapers,' said Janice Lucas, a monitor working with a voter coalition called Election Protection.
Democrats were anxious for people to vote early. Florida Young Democrats and College Democrats organized overnight 'camp-outs' in six cities to be first in line to vote.
'Early voting is our way to make sure votes are counted and counted properly,' said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Allie Merzer.
But Republicans also urged people to vote early to avoid long lines amid an anticipated heavy turnout.
'You'll feel better on November 2nd knowing your vote was already cast,' Bush's campaign said in an e-mail to supporters. (Additional reporting by Michael Christie)