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Churches rally members to vote early Sunday in Hillsborough

Jesse Patty tries to attract drivers Sunday outside the early voting center at C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in Tampa.

SAM OWENS | Times

Jesse Patty tries to attract drivers Sunday outside the early voting center at C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in Tampa.

TAMPA — Multicolored election signs dotted the sidewalks, cars crowded the streets and supporters shouted their candidates' praises over one another Sunday afternoon at C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library.

The event was held to encourage early voting in the Aug. 26 primary, where candidates for Florida governor, state House and other offices will be selected. Early voting started Thursday and ends Aug. 24.

Much of Sunday's crowd arrived from churches, braving a hot, muggy afternoon. Some came in shuttle vans, while at other churches leaders merely encouraged their members to vote.

The Rev. Tom Scott, a pastor at 34th Street Church of God and former Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member, said about 15 churches participated Sunday afternoon.

"We push the idea of souls to polls, and encourage the congregation to get out," he said.

Part of the reason early voting is so important, Scott said, is that many African-Americans vote Sunday after church services.

"Black churches have huge turnout on Sundays," he said.

And it has become increasingly important for the candidates as well, Scott said — with several present Sunday.

"As a candidate, if you miss early voting, you perhaps already lost," Scott said.

Across the street from the library, pastors held prayers about various issues such as economic development, and Oriental Fish Co. handed out fried fish to attendees.

According to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office, 4,341 early votes had been cast as of Saturday evening, with 307 coming from C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library.

Ramon Nelson, 48, said he came out to vote for Sean Shaw, the Democrat State House candidate for District 61, which includes the library. He enjoyed the tradition of voting on election day, he said, but has started to vote early or through absentee ballots.

"It's gotten to the point where if you don't vote early, you might not be able to vote at all," Nelson said.

Other attendees waved candidate signs to honking cars on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Among them was retired Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ed Ward, who was supporting his daughter Laura's bid for judge.

Ward, who campaigned for office in a time before early voting, said he had gotten an impression of its popularity visiting voting locations Friday.

"I've seen great turnout — not withstanding the inclement weather," Ward said.

Contact Jimmy Geurts at jgeurts@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3402. Follow @jimmygeurts.

Churches rally members to vote early Sunday in Hillsborough 08/17/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2014 10:36pm]
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