Crist put early voters before party

So how are we supposed to have our proper fight-face on for next Tuesday's election when our governor insists on all this practical-and-fair, reaching-across-the-aisle stuff?

This week, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, onetime contender to be the guy at John McCain's side right about now, did something remarkable.

Concerned by news of long lines awaiting the crush of voters determined to cast their ballots early — more than a million had done so statewide by early this week — Crist ordered extended hours at all early voting sites.

He did this despite the fact that county totals show more Democrats than Republicans vote early.

Meaning, he did this despite the fact that it could help the other side.

Remarkable.

And right.

Since early voting began at select local libraries and government buildings last week, I've stopped by to see how things were going, figuring I'd early vote myself at some point.

"About two hours," said a couple leaving the College Hill Library in East Tampa. Scratch that. Ditto when I saw the line snaking around the Jan Kaminis Platt Library in South Tampa. I'd have to wait until I had more time or vote in the big one on Tuesday.

I wasn't the only one. More than once, I saw a new arrival get a look at all those people and do an about-face.

Still, it was kind of inspiring to see who waited. People brought folding chairs and crosswords and, of course, cell phones.

They chatted up strangers. They came when the sun was hot enough to fell the elderly and came when waiting meant shivering against a wintry wind.

On a Saturday morning at Sam's Club, it seemed like every fourth person sported an I-Voted sticker, showing they hit the polls before errands.

We are a country at war, in economic crisis, and we are determined to have a say in what's next.

But you had to wonder about anyone who couldn't afford to wait that long, about any hindrance that could keep the people from the polls.

After the governor extended weekday hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (with weekend hours varying by county), I gave it another shot. The morning after the change, I found a two-hour parking meter in downtown Tampa, plunked in the maximum number of quarters, and took a crowded elevator to the 16th floor and the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Five people stood in line in front of me. I got my ballot, hit the booth, filled in my ovals, put it in the machine, slapped on my I-Voted sticker and was out the door.

From the time I got out of my car until I climbed back in took about 22 minutes — including a protracted discussion with strangers about a bake sale at the Tax Collector's Office, and the merits of apple vs. cherry pie.

Which is not to say lines won't still be long. Too long, even.

By 6:30 a.m. the day after the governor made his decree, 30 or so people were already lined up outside the College Hill Library.

But some clearheaded, nonpartisan, much-needed relief has been offered up. And despite problems, long lines have already said something about perseverance and determination at a time we could sure use both.

Good the governor saw it, too.

Crist put early voters before party 10/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 6:51pm]

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