Charles Gibson didn't have to wait long to cast his ballot for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday.
He took the elevator to the 26th floor of a downtown Tampa county office building, walked past a sign that said he had a 0-minute wait to vote and into a room where election workers were standing around waiting for him. In hour seven of the first day for early voting, he and his wife were the 21st and 22nd people to walk in.
"He's the only candidate that can beat Barack Obama," said Gibson, 69, a commercial real estate broker. "He is a Christian and I think looks like the president of the United States. He has a lot of floor presence, as they would say in basketball."
In person early voting began Monday in Hillsborough, Hardy, Hendry, Monroe and Collier counties, five days ahead of the South Carolina primary. And while the downtown location was slow, more than 1,125 people cast ballots in Hillsborough on the first day, said Travis Abercrombie, a spokesman for the county supervisor of elections.
"Everything's going extremely well," Abercrombie said. "We really couldn't ask for a better opening."
A new state law shortens the number of days early voting is allowed in Florida, but the law isn't being applied in five counties because of prior racial discrimination. A federal court is deciding whether the election law changes should be implemented statewide. That's why five counties began voting and the other 62 Florida counties begin early voting on Saturday.
While Monday was the first day votes were being cast in person, thousands of absentee ballots have already been turned in. Ballots were sent to military personnel and overseas voters in mid-December and to other absentee voters beginning Dec. 28.
"We would like to see more people come out," Abercrombie said. "I do hope and feel confident that it will pick up."