(CNN) - Florida's primary may still be eight days away, but voting is already underway.
Early voting began statewide on Saturday and 53,000 ballots were cast by Sunday, according to the Florida Department of State, which runs the division of elections.
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But that's only part of the story. According to the state, 475,000 people had requested and were sent absentee ballots, and as of last Wednesday 180,000 were cast and received by Florida officials.
All of those people voted before Newt Gingrich skyrocketed in the polls and before the former House speaker defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas by double digits in Saturday's South Carolina Republican presidential primary.
If Florida's January 31 primary turns out to be a very close contest, absentee and early voting could be the deciding factor.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Romney captured half of the early absentee votes, because he has a campaign machine to produce them and none of his rivals for the GOP nomination can match him," says Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor.
"It may mean that Mitt Romney gets an extra quarter to play for that Gingrich won't, that Romney's won the fifth quarter," adds Castellanos, who was a top media adviser for Romney's 2008 nomination bid but who is not taking sides this cycle. "If Florida's a jump ball, Romney will get a tip just because of the absentee ballots."
Overall, nearly 1.95 million people voted in the 2008 Florida GOP primary.
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