Voters go to the polls today
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08/26/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

Update: a March 11, 2009 St. Petersburg Times article says that Buddy Johnson's office used taxpayer money to pay Michelle Patty.

Today is the primary election in Florida. Voters are choosing school board members, judges and who will represent their parties in Legislative and County Commission races.

In Hillsborough and 14 other counties across the state that had used touch-screen voting machines are using optical-scan machines for the first time. WMNF visited five precincts in Tampa today.

The College Hill Library on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in East Tampa was a site of early voting for the last two weeks. Several people showed up there Tuesday morning because they had voted there in the past and thought it was their voting precinct. That happened to Arthur Dunnigan Sr. and his wife.

“I don’t know the reason, but it’s now 10:30 and I’m here to cast my votes and no one is here.”

Six people at the College Hill Library were waving signs and wearing shirts in support of judicial candidate Constance Daniels. One of them, Michelle Patty, phoned the office of the Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson to find out why the library wasn’t open.

“Once again, the elections office haven’t notified people to let them know that they need to go down to Middleton [High School]. So we don’t know how many votes have been lost here today because this is not the proper precinct.”

Patty said the College Hill Library was a precinct in 2006 and blamed Johnson, who faces a re-election challenge in November, for the mix-up.

“If this is a commentary of the job he’s going to do, we’re in trouble here in the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County.”

Voters were also turned away because they were in the wrong location at Precincts 327 and 330 located on Hanna Avenue in East Tampa.

In South Tampa’s Precinct 123, near the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Bay to Bay, voting went smoothly. A small but steady trickle of voters went in and out of those three precincts in the late morning and early afternoon. WMNF asked the voters why they chose to participate in the primary.

But away from the polling places, there was much less enthusiasm. In Lykes Gaslight Park and the Franklin Street Mall in Downtown Tampa at lunchtime most people said they did not have time to talk about the election, but of those who did, none had voted in Tuesday’s primary election.

That apathy does not apply to November’s election. Some people told WMNF that even though they had not voted in Tuesday’s primary, they would vote in November. Many who voted in the primary said they were even more motivated about the presidential election in 10 weeks.

At the College Hill Library, WMNF spoke with Keith Howard, a former felon who has been out of jail for more than 11 years but is facing bureaucratic red tape in having his civil rights restored, including the right to vote.

“I’m tired of going through this. I want to vote. I want some change. … I filled out the paperwork and everything. I’m waiting for them to send me something back in the mail, which I haven’t received yet. They said it would be three to four weeks. This is the fourth week right here. I still haven’t received anything in the mail yet.”

Polls are open until 7 tonight.

Note: after this story went to air, WMNF heard from a listener who reported problems with the voting machine in his Sulfur Springs precinct that led to his ballot being rejected.

Jennifer Marks from the Supervisor of Elections Office confirmed that the College Hill Library was a precinct in the 2006 general election and the 2007 city election. She says that precinct's voters received a letter and a new voter card indicating a change in polling location.

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