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GOP maintains lead over Democrats in early primary voting

Florida voters are picking up the pace at returning their mail ballots in next week's statewide primary election. Signs suggest a higher turnout than for the last mid-term primary election four years ago.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.1 million people have voted — most of them by mail. At the current pace, the volume of mail ballots will greatly exceed the 2014 primary.

Here are the numbers from the Division of Elections web site as of Tuesday morning.

One week before the election, 914,227 people have voted by mail. Four years ago, the total number of mail ballots was 917,205.

The overall turnout so far is 55 percent of what it was in the 2014 primary. Republicans account for 47 percent of all ballots cast so far and Democrats 42 percent.

Both parties will have aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts in the November general election. But because parties avoid taking stands in primaries, GOTV efforts are largely the work of the candidates.

"Come November, we'll have a much more robust field campaign," said Alison Morano, a Democratic Party consultant.

Voting by mail is rapidly growing in popularity in Florida, so the current numbers may reflect a change in voting method by many voters. The numbers suggest a higher turnout this year than four years ago.

The 2014 primary turnout was 17.6 percent, or 2.1 million voters. The only statewide race of interest in that election was a yawner — the Democratic primary for governor between Charlie Crist and Nan Rich.

Through Monday's count, the top three counties in mail ballot returns are Miami-Dade, Pinellas and Hillsborough. The top three counties in early voting were Miami-Dade, Duval and Hillsborough.

More than 1.6 million mail ballots that have been sent to voters have not yet been returned. Of that total, 42 percent are Democrats and 35 percent are Republicans.

This year there are spirited races in both parties for the nomination for governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, as well as in several congressional districts.

In Pensacola's heavily-Republican Escambia County, turnout is up by 126 percent over the 2014 primary. (Here are the statewide and county-by-county numbers from the 2014 primary).

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