You can't Early Vote anymore, but you can vote early

11/05/12 Janelle Irwin
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Early voting ended on Saturday throughout Florida, but that doesn’t mean people can’t still vote early. Mail in ballots can be picked up and turned in at any Supervisor of Elections office before tomorrow’s general election. Travis Abercrombie, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County elections office, said people are taking advantage of the last chance to vote before Election Day.

“It’s been brisk. It’s been very brisk. So far, as of 1pm, we’ve had 1,144 people in Hillsborough County come in to request an over the counter vote by mail or absentee ballot. Many of them have voted them as well and returned them here and some people are taking them home, but everyone does have the understanding that they must be received back by our office by 7 p.m. Election Day.”

Some counties opened election offices yesterday. So many people showed up in Miami-Dade the overwhelmed office closed after two hours. They later re-opened after voters who had been waiting in line began chanting and complaining on social networking sites. Hillsborough County’s Falkenberg Road elections office was open yesterday, too. Earl Lennard, Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections, said allowing voters to turn in their ballots just made sense.

“We had to be here anyway for Clerk’s pick-up – we had the Clerks picking up their material, their supplies at this site and people were coming by and trying to obtain a ballot as well as drop off a ballot so we determined that it would just be a practical thing to do.”

It makes sense for voters too after a week of unprecedented Early Voting wait times. In St. Pete at one of only three Pinellas Early Voting locations, lines stretched an entire city block and kept people waiting for 2 hours or more on Saturday. Lines in Hillsborough weren’t quite as long because they had 15 different early voting locations. But still, more than 28,000 ballots were cast and more than half of registered voters in Hillsborough have not voted. Abercrombie, spokesperson for the elections office, said having one office open yesterday let an extra 650 people vote early.

“The reason we’re doing this is we want to give Hillsborough County voters every opportunity to vote and the response from them has been tremendous. Everyone’s been very appreciative and they’ve taken advantage of it.”

A lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party to extend Early Voting is still pending after Governor Rick Scott denied a request to extend it until Election Day. It prompted former Governor Charlie Crist to canvass parts of Tampa today to let voters know that casting an in-person absentee ballot is the next best thing.

“It’s unconscionable to me that our governor would not sign an extension. I did that four years ago to make it easier for people to cast their ballot. I mean, this is a precious, sacred right that we have in this country. We’re fortunate that we get to chose our leaders unlike some other countries and it seems to me that if you value that democracy, that precious right, you would do everything to encourage people to vote.”

This is the first general election using the state’s Republican-backed revision to voting laws that reduces early voting days from 12 to 8. But that could come back to haunt the GOP. As of Saturday, nearly 4.5 million people have voted in Florida and there have been 170,000 more Democrats at the polls than Republicans. Counties like Hillsborough and Pinellas that opened election offices on Sunday tend to vote Democrat. But many counties that didn’t open lean Republican. Linda Whidden, an in-person absentee voter in Hillsborough County said Mitt Romney could suffer from limited voting opportunities in those counties.

“It could affect, very well, for the Republican Party that they’re not getting their votes because people get frustrated and like, ‘ah, I don’t want to drive that far to get to that early voting,” or they say ‘I don’t want to be in that long line the day of voting.”

Polk is one county that did not open election offices yesterday. In the 2008 election, the county’s popular vote favored Republican candidate John McCain. Polk County’s Supervisor of Elections, Lori Edwards said she chose not to open an office on Sunday because election staff and poll workers just needed a day off.

Elections offices in Hillsborough County are open until 5 this afternoon. They will be open until polls close at 7 tomorrow night. Mail-in ballots have to be turned in to an election official by then. If people chose to go to the polls on Election Day, they have to go to their own precinct. Information on where those are is on local Supervisor of Elections websites.

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