Once again, the words "Florida election" are followed in news coverage by the word "meltdown.''
In the final week before Election Day, hysteria erupted around Florida's early voting, lawsuits were filed and lawyers injected themselves into South Florida's elections.
National headlines and network news programs suggested that fighting over voting in Florida is a ritual.
" Deja Vu — Voting Is Already a Mess in Florida.'' "Florida Early Voting Results in Long Lines and Lawsuits." "Florida vote is a disaster even before it officially starts.''
On Twitter: "It wouldn't be a proper election without the words "Florida", "voting", and "chaos."
And one story referred to Broward as "yes, that Broward County.''
Messages from national media outlets were stacking up for Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher as she worked to count absentee ballots and to ready more than 400 polling places for Election Day.
Broward Republican Party Chairman Richard DeNapoli said early voting, with its long, long lines created "a media frenzy. Everybody gets excited about it, and they have this thought that if they don't early vote they won't be able to vote.''
In reality, he said, now that nearly half the likely voters have cast ballots early or absentee, voting for everyone else could be a relative breeze.
"There probably won't be much of a line, just looking at the numbers,'' he said.
After national attention on five- and six-hour waits to vote in South Florida, and a lawsuit by the Florida Democratic Party to extend early voting because of it, all three counties over the weekend and on Monday highlighted a different way to vote early: in-person absentee voting, where a voter walks in, requests an absentee ballot, fills it out and turns it in. Elections supervisors in all three counties extended office hours over the weekend to allow more of it.
Monday, as the controversy wore on, and the lines for absentee voting grew, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes extended in-person absentee voting to 7 p.m.
"Many people say they can't vote tomorrow because they work,'' spokeswoman Evelyn Perez-Verdia said.
In Palm Beach County, Bucher said early voting went on until 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning because of long lines of voters who were in place before 7 p.m. Saturday, the official ending time.
When a man with a walker knocked on the elections' office door at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Bucher offered him an absentee ballot that he could cast in person.
"Then somebody else came and then lots of people came," Bucher said.
With lines still forming, Bucher on Monday continued issuing absentee ballots to walk-up voters.
State officials found no legal fault in the approach.
Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said it's been used for weeks now, and extending office hours to accommodate more of it is a local decision.
"Any decisions made about in-person absentee voting have been made by supervisors at their own discretion and consistent with state law,'' he said in an email Monday.
Gov. Rick Scott, in South Florida on Monday, said that he was excited about the long lines at polling places.
"Oh gosh, it's exciting," he said. "People care about this election. That's what I wanted all along. I want people to go out and vote. What I always say is if you have a right to vote in our state, go register to vote, get involved in these races, vet the candidates, get to know the candidates. This is the time to get to know them because you can go to all their rallies, go to the meetings. And then go out and vote."
Scott shrugged off accusations that he was trying to curb voter participation by refusing to extend early voting when the Florida Democratic Party asked for it earlier this week. A 2011 election law shortened the number of days local supervisors of elections could offer early voting, though supervisors did extend the hours on those days.
Scott said there were plenty of options for people to vote, and the change in the law also ensured that hours were extended.
"Today, you can do absent voting, you can do early voting and you can show up to 6,000 locations across the state," he said. "So the right thing is happening."
Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an interview with the News Service of Florida on Monday said of the more than 11 million people registered to vote in Florida, more than 4.4 million have already cast their ballots. Turnout is estimated at more than 70 percent.
"I'm anticipating that things will go smoothly, orderly and that there will be plenty of places to vote in each
precinct," he said.
Voters who still have absentee ballots in hand can return them in Broward to either the main office at 115 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, or the office at the Lauderhill Mall.
In Palm Beach County, they can be returned to the main office, 240 S. Military Trail, west of West Palm Beach, by 7 p.m. or to branch offices by 5 p.m.
Palm Beach County branch locations: Northeast County Courthouse, 3188 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens; Southeast Administrative Complex, 345 S. Congress Ave., Delray Beach; and Glades Office Building, 2976 State Road 15, Belle Glade.
Or cast a regular ballot at the polling place and take the absentee ballot with you to be canceled.
State law requires all absentee ballots to be turned in by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
A last run to the post office to pick up any remaining ballots will be done by elections offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties — at 7 p.m. in Palm Beach County and at 6:30 p.m. in Broward. Any ballots arriving Wednesday or thereafter won't be counted.
Staff writers Anthony Man, Scott Travis and Ben Wolford contributed to this report.