Early voting starts in Florida; In Hillsborough, more than 15,000 vote in first 8 hours
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10/29/12 Janelle Irwin
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Saturday was the first day of early voting in Florida and nearly 37,000 voters cast ballots in Hillsborough County over the weekend. In East Tampa Voters, elected officials and some candidates braved long lines at Al Barnes Park Saturday afternoon to encourage others to vote early.

Craig Latimer, candidate for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, said lines had already begun forming as polls opened.

“Right now as we’re standing here talking at almost 3 o’clock, we’ve already voted right at 15,000 people in Hillsborough County since 7 o’clock this morning.”

Due to changes in Florida’s voting law, early voting days were cut from 14 to eight. The changes to Florida’s voting law worry people who say early voting gives people a chance to cast their ballots who otherwise might not be able to. Debora Barr cast her ballot early in the morning on Saturday. She voted for President Barack Obama, but had to wait in a pretty long line to do it. Barr said she was shocked that the polls were so busy today but thinks the volume will ease up as early voting gets underway.

“I’m thinking that even though as busy as it was today, it’s still better to vote early than Election Day because then that’s the only day you have and so you know that it’s going to be really, really busy, really, really congested. So I think early voting is the way to go.”

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections candidate Craig Latimer is already the office’s chief of staff. Latimer said it’s crucial that voters have a variety of options available to them to make sure as many people cast a ballot as possible.

“November 6th is not the first day to vote, it’s the last day to vote. You get up November 6th and you’ve got a flat tire, you’ve got a problem. You get up November 6th and it’s storming…what happens if you go to get up and you’ve got, your kids are sick and now who’s going to stay home and take care of the kids? Don’t get shut out.”

Fifteen early voting locations will be open throughout Hillsborough County everyday until Saturday from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening. And unlike Election Day, voters can go to any of those locations to cast their ballots whether or not it’s in their precinct. Latimer said mail in ballots are still an option too.

“October 31st is the last day to request a ballot be mailed to you, but you can pick them up at our offices also and, as a matter of fact, our office out at the Robert Gilder Election Service Center on Faulkenberg Road is open every Sunday from 9 to 5. You can come out there, get an over the counter Vote by Mail ballot, fill it out, sign the envelope, put it in the ballot box.”

Campaigns on both sides of the political spectrum have been encouraging people to vote early. But a lot of people focus their get out the vote efforts in poor neighborhoods. Victor DiMaio, president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Hispanic Caucus said Latino voters tend to have lower incomes and need the extra opportunities to get to the polls. He added, they also used to have to worry about whether or not they could read the ballot, but now the county is printing ballots in English and Spanish.

“It’s a big difference for a Hispanic person to go in to vote and not be able to read some of the things. You know, in Hillsborough we’re a little spoiled but I think it’s going to help.”

Voters are facing a long and complicated ballot this year with not just Presidential and Congressional races, but also 11 ballot initiatives. Tim Heberlein is the organizer for the Florida Consumer Action Network.

“We’re asking votes to vote no on the ballot initiatives and yes to retain the judges just for simplicity’s sake, but be an educated voter. Go out and learn the amendments. Learn what other issues are going to be on your ballot during early voting.”

Heberlein said knowing the ballot before heading to the polls will help move lines quicker.

“For the folks that are already educated on what the issues are, what the amendments are, they get in and out very quickly. For those who don’t – might have to take a little bit extra time at the poling sites.”

Three Florida Supreme Court Justices are on the ballot for merit retention. That’s something that happens every six years, but this time it’s become a politically charged Republican campaign effort to have the Justices ousted. Democratic Tampa City Council Member Frank Reddick said the judges should be retained.

“There’s other issues on the ballot that are also critical. We have some local officials who are on the ballot. That’s important to us in a local area. We have the Supreme Court Justices that we want to retain – that’s important to us – but most importantly is we want them to vote and we want to keep president Obama back in office for four more years.”

Most of the people at the East Tampa event were Obama supporters, but there were also some candidates who are in their final push to get elected. Bob Henriquez is running for Hillsborough County Property Appraiser. Henriquez is a former State Representative but voters don’t really know who he is. He said it’s more important for candidates like him to get out to election events to meet the voters.

“I’m running against Senator Rhonda Storms. She has incredible name ID. Frankly it’s a double edged sword for her because she’s got a lot of negative name ID as well. For me it’s just a matter of letting people know that there’s an alternative because if they go to the polls and just see a name they know, even if it’s not a name that is not necessarily very attractive to them, sometimes they’ll vote for that person.”

A complete list of early voting locations with estimated wait times is on the Hillsborough County elections website. There are three early voting locations in Pinellas County – downtown St. Petersburg, downtown Clearwater and one on Starkey Road in Largo. Their website has more information.




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