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Dismal voter turnout in Hernando

Terry Turcote, 77, of Spring Hill, casts her ballot into a box manned by Thomas Florio, 82, at Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill on Tuesday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Terry Turcote, 77, of Spring Hill, casts her ballot into a box manned by Thomas Florio, 82, at Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill on Tuesday.

The uproar from last year's so-called taxpayer revolt in Hernando County didn't translate into much interest at the ballot box Tuesday.

A dismal voter turnout defined the primary election. As of 6:30 p.m. — a half-hour before polls closed — only 10,100 registered voters went to precincts to cast ballots. Combined with the 6,623 people who mailed absentee ballots or voted early, turnout was roughly 13.9 percent.

On Monday, Supervisor of Elections Annie D. Williams had predicted that about 20 percent of registered voters would show up.

A few minor problems were reported with optical scan ballots. Mechanical issues arose at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville where an optical scan machine wouldn't accept ballots momentarily and poll workers were forced to use a backup system.

Those who went to the polls, such as stalwart voter William Watson, a 64-year-old retiree from Spring Hill, felt compelled by civic duty.

"If you don't vote, you can't complain," he said after voting at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on Spring Hill Drive. "And believe me, I complain."

The low turnout left Republican Executive Committee chairwoman Ana Trinque feeling "perturbed."

With many residents demanding change, particularly in county government, last year, the candidates and local Republican party worked hard to get voters to the polls. But even last-minute phone calls and e-mails were not producing big numbers as Election Day wound down.

The main focus of this year's primary elections were the three County Commission races. In one, Republican incumbent Jeff Stabins battled two challengers, Michael Burmann and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos.

In the other two, Republicans John Druzbick, Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes and Charles Gaskin competed for the chance to oust incumbent Democrat Diane Rowden in District 3; James Adkins, William "Billy'' Healis and Michael Robinson tangled for a shot at unseating Democrat Chris Kingsley in District 5 in the Nov. 4 general election.

"It's kind of scary to me. This reflects the apathy, that people feel there is nothing they can do to bring about change,'' Trinque said. "Everyone has worked so hard. People are upset with their TRIM (property tax) notices. They're reading about all this corruption in the (Department of Public Works). But the only way they can make a change is by getting new blood in there.''

Trinque's counterpart in the county's Democratic Executive Committee, Jay Rowden, said he didn't see the surge of anger toward county government that she described.

"A lot of that negativity attributed is perception. It's not real,'' said Rowden. "People are trying to promote that agenda and the people aren't buying it. I have a lot of faith in voters. They're a whole lot smarter than people give them credit for.''

Several nonpartisan races had the potential for being decided on Tuesday, including two judicial contests and the race for School Board District 4 between James Yant, Gene Magrini and Robert Neuhausen.

In the nonpartisan races with three candidates, if no candidate claims 50 percent of the votes cast plus one, the two top finishers will move on to the general election.

Some Democratic voters said they found the experience largely unsatisfying based on the quality of congressional candidates on their ticket. "The choices weren't that great, but you have to vote for the lesser of two evils," said Judy Avila, a 55-year-old Spring Hill homemaker.

Sandra Cichon, 60, cast a ballot at Spring Hill United Church of Christ. She left disappointed because she couldn't vote in the hotly contested commission races as a registered Democrat.

"I wouldn't even have come if I knew," she said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Dismal voter turnout in Hernando 08/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 5:31pm]
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