MIAMI — More than 220,000 people have already cast their ballots in Florida's Republican presidential primary under the state's early voting system ahead of the January 31 contest, a party official said Sunday.


Analysts say those early votes could help establishment favorite Mitt Romney regain some momentum after his bruising loss to former House speaker Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

As of Sunday, a total of 475,782 absentee ballots had been requested, according to a spokesman for the Florida Republican party, Brian Hughes.

Of those ballots, 191,810 have been returned, and 35,401 people have cast early ballots at polling stations, meaning 227,211 people have already made their choice as to who should take on President Barack Obama in November.

In Florida, a state of more than 19 million people, more than four million Republicans are registered to vote in the primary, according to a party official.

"I think early voting probably helped Romney," Susan MacManus, professor of political science at the University of South Florida, told AFP, though she noted that early voting had only begun in five counties.

Under pressure from Gingrich and others, Romney vowed to release his 2010 tax return on Tuesday, seeking to end concern over what he might be hiding ahead of the all-important Florida vote.

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