Early voting turnout strong this election

11/02/12 Janelle Irwin
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Early voting is in full swing today with only tomorrow remaining. The average wait time is more than 45 minutes at the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in East Tampa. As of this afternoon more than 128,000 voters had cast their early ballots in Hillsborough County. That’s about 16% of all registered voters.

“I have seen a beautiful thing. I have seen an amazing moment when it comes to voting because they said that we weren’t going to show up and, Oh my God! African-American people have showed up and showed out. This has been awesome.”

Yvette Lewis is the political action chair for the Hillsborough County NAACP and a volunteer with Souls to the Polls. At the East Tampa polling place, African-American voters have dominated the long lines. The state legislature slashed early voting days from 12 days to 8 this year, but supporters of the change say it’s OK because it also increased voting hours and opened polls one Sunday. Lewis says even though more days would be ideal, organizations like Souls to the Polls will still get just as many people to the polls.

“And people got out to vote and they came and they had their clothes on and we just played some church music for them and it was Souls to the Polls and they really felt good about that. That extra push, that other Sunday – if we would have had another Sunday that would have been great as well, but people have been coming and then when we had – some churches had bible study Tuesday night and they had bible study Wednesday night, people still came after bible study to vote as well.”

Opponents of the early voting reductions say it disenfranchises minority voters – part of the electorate that tends to lean Democrat. Florida Senator, Democrat Arthenia Joyner, voted against the changes and sent a request to Governor Rick Scott to increase early voting opportunities. She hasn’t gotten a reply.

“But with the League of Women Voters, they just asked yesterday if he would extend the hours for early voting like the former Governor Charlie Crist did and of course he said no because it’s all about suppressing the minority and voters who tend to vote Democratic. That’s all that’s at play here. If he felt that the Republican party was getting these early votes than he would extend it.”

Some people argue that other changes to Florida’s voting law make it harder for people with low incomes or disabilities to cast a ballot. One of those changes requires people to cast a provisional ballot if they haven’t updated their voter registration after moving to a different county. Hillsborough County has already collected 341 provisional ballots. Rosalie Jones is the elections Clerk at the East Tampa library.

“It could be for any reason from an ex-felon that hasn’t had their rights restored and they want to vote, we can’t deny them the privilege so we do them a provisional ballot. Also, if they don’t have a photo signature ID we have to do, it’s mandatory, that we do a provisional ballot.”

“Is this your first election or have you done this before?”

“I’ve been doing this since early election since they started in 2004.”

“And have you noticed that there’s been more provisional ballots this election than previous elections or has it been about the same?”

“Not really. It varies. Some days we have none at all.”

Only 74 provisional ballots have been cast in Pinellas County but that may be because their early voting turnout is a fraction of Hillsborough – 29,000. Instead, Pinellas voters have submitted 198,000 mail-in ballots, over 30,000 more than Hillsborough. Hillsborough voter Kenya Ball worries that mail-in ballots might not be counted correctly.

“Although I think that both can be lost, I think that mail-in votings really, really, really could be lost. So, those votes may not be counted, they may be – they have more of a chance to me of being tampered with.”

Lines at least 40 people deep wrap around the library and people waiting grab whatever slice of shade they can find. But according to Rosalie Jones, the elections Clerk at the East Tampa polling place, no one complains.

“Although we have cards to give to the person behind them and give them a green card where they can go inside and sit and wait for that person to come up, people are saying let them go on in and vote.”

But some voters think the state can do better. In a room with about 15 privacy booths, voters fill in bubbles to indicate their choices on the ballot. Ted Brown had already been standing in line for 15 minutes and was only half way through the line. He said the idea that in the 21st Century people still had to color in the lines to cast a vote was ridiculous.

“Today with all the digital technology, I don’t know why we can’t have electronic voting from home. You can buy a house online, you can do bank transactions, you can do medical transactions and it’s all safe and secure and it’s a one on one. We can’t do that with voting and this is a very archaic system.”

Brown said the lines at the polls also wouldn’t be so long if this year’s ballot weren’t so long. In addition to presidential, congressional and local candidates, the ballot also has 11 constitutional amendments to wade through. Democratic campaigns on the sidewalk outside the library encouraged voters not to skip them and instead vote no on all of them. That’s exactly what Brown said he was doing.

“They’re too complicated. Their titles are misleading based on the text – what the text that follows.”

Early voting locations in both Hillsborough and Pinellas are open until 7 this evening and again tomorrow from 7 to 7. Pinellas County only has three locations to vote – one each in St. Pete, Largo and Clearwater. Voters can still request a mail-in ballot in person at election offices and be turned in by 7 in the evening on Tuesday. According to the Miami Herald, nearly 3.5 million people in Florida have already participated in early voting.

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