ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Eight days of early voting ended Saturday with about 7 percent of the county's eligible Republican voters going to the polls before Tuesday's presidential preference primary names Florida's favorite for the party's standard-bearer.
Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker reported 3,656 ballots were cast since Jan. 21 at the county's three early voting sites — one in Fort Pierce and two in Port St. Lucie.
"It is less than expected," Walker said. "I always hope for a bigger vote.
"The last presidential preference primary (in 2008) was a two-party election," she added. "But the Republicans turned out in higher numbers."
There were 614 ballots cast Saturday, the heaviest day of early voting in St. Lucie County.
Walker said there were no lines at any of the three early voting sites.
"I think three sites were sufficient," she said. "But in early voting for the general election, we'll need at least three more sites."
Walker predicted about 55 percent of the county's 54,179 eligible Republican voters will cast ballots by the time polls close 7 p.m. Tuesday, choosing between Newt Gingrich , Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum . The names of five other GOP hopefuls appear on ballots, but those erstwhile candidates suspended their campaigns before Florida voting started.
Walker said 6,552 absentee ballots were received by Saturday and she expects more to arrive in the mail through Election Day.
While the total number of early voters was known Saturday, nobody will know who they supported until voting ends Tuesday.
Interviews with Republicans leaving early voting polls on the Treasure Coast Saturday showed a wide range of candidates being favored, for different reasons.
Port St. Lucie voter Diana Golding said she tired of Romney's and Gingrich's campaigns "slinging mud" and voted for Santorum.
"I don't care how much money Romney has, or how many times Gingrich has been married," Golding said. "I care about who can get this country back."
Lee Dyer of Port St. Lucie and his wife, Janet, both said they were disappointed in their party's selection of candidates this election year.
"There's not a person there that I'm enthusiastic about at all," said Lee Dyer, adding he cast his ballot for Romney.
Janet Dyer said she voted for Ron Paul, but recalled Gingrich saying he supported colonizing the moon.
"I'd like to put all the politicians on the moon," she laughed.
Art Cross of Fort Pierce said he voted for Gingrich.
"Newt's got baggage, but tell me who doesn't," Cross said. "I like Ron Paul, but he's not going to win.
"If Mitt gets (the nomination), I'd rather see Obama in there again," he added. "How can you trust someone who breaks up companies to bring back the economy?" he said, referring to Romney's work at Bain Capital.
Adam Knutson and Nicholas Knutson, twin brothers from Vero Beach, said they both chose Rick Santorum after watching Thursday night's debate.
"I saw a shift in debate flow, going from personal attacks to issues and how we can help the American people," said Adam Knutson, who credited Santorum for shifting that focus.
"I like (Santorum's) attitude," his brother agreed. "He has a good history as a senator and as a Republican."
Martha Hansen of Palm City said she voted for Santorum.
"He has my value system and I believe he is the real conservative," Hansen said.
"For the primary, I'm voting with my heart," she added. "But next time around, I'm voting for whoever I think can beat our current president."