Early vote not so bad, once you get there

Just before noon Wednesday there were about 40 people lined up along Fifth Street N in downtown St. Petersburg waiting to vote early.

For what it's worth, Obama shirts and buttons were visible, but none for McCain. Some say that early voting favors the Democrats while absentee voting favors the Republicans.

"Mainly I'm doing it because I'm trying to help Barack Obama get in there," Travis Faulk, 36, told me. He was heeding Obama's urging to vote early to avoid any last-minute mishaps that would keep him away.

"I just want to make sure he wins," said Jenny Allen of Clearwater, a criminology student who at 27 was voting in her first election — she's had no interest until now.

I took my place in line and milled along. The day was mild with a pleasant breeze, and everybody seemed to be in a good mood. Canes and walkers mixed with baby strollers. A steady stream of folks with "I Voted" stickers emerged through from the glass doors.

The wait was about a half-hour but the voting itself took just minutes. Step 1: You show your ID and sign a form swearing that it's really you. Step 2: They give you a ballot and a pen and tell you how to fill in the circles. Step 3: You go to a booth and fill out the circles. Step 4: You stick the ballot into a scanner and it tells you that you voted for Bush. No, wait! Just kidding about that last part.

Florida started early voting in 2002 and has liberalized its rules for absentee ballots as well. By some estimates, a third or more of the votes will be cast before what we still call "Election Day."

This has some important implications for campaigns and the way they're waged. Elections are less likely to be influenced by last-minute shifts in opinion, or last-minute gaffes. Those nasty brochures that show up the Saturday before Election Day have less chance of working, which is fine by me.

This was my first time voting early, and I confess to feeling like I was giving up a little flexibility. What if something happens to change my mind? But the idea of having my vote safely in the bag, over and done with, seemed attractive — even virtuous.

Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark has been criticized for opening only three early-voting sites. Neighboring counties have more sites and more turnout.

When Hillsborough's oft-troubled Buddy Johnson — who is running 13 early sites — seems to be doing something better than Pinellas, it's certainly noteworthy.

To be fair, Clark has been heavily promoting voting by mail. She's also been better than the state-level folks about helping voters who run afoul of the state's "no match, no vote" law.

But she has been stubborn about early voting. Some of my Democratic friends say it's because she's a Republican who wants to tamp down Democratic early voting.

Nah, I don't think she's like that. She is wrong to be so stingy with early voting sites, but I think it's mostly because she's dug in on the point.

Surely there's a compromise between having a ridiculous three sites in a county of 1-million people, and too many sites with workers sitting around idly.

Oh, well! As they say in Chicago, vote early and often. If you're thinking about skipping it, just remember: I've already voted, and you should not so easily give up the chance to cancel me out.

Early vote not so bad, once you get there 10/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:34pm]

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