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Election Day starts smoothly across Tampa Bay

A slow but steady stream of voters throughout Tampa Bay headed to the polls before dawn Tuesday.

All polling places in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties opened on time. There were no reports of problems throughout the morning and early afternoon.

About 13.4 percent of Pinellas County voters had showed up at the polls Tuesday, according to a 4 p.m. sample. About 25 percent of voters had already voted early, said Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark.

"Everything is running smoothly so far,'' she said.

It was a similar situation in Hillsborough, with no major problems reported, said Travis Abercrombie, a spokesman for Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard.

By 3 p.m. a bit less than 15 percent of eligible voters in Hillsborough had shown up to the polls, based on a sample of 10 precincts, Abercrombie said.

Gov. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, who is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent candidate, arrived to vote at his polling place soon after it opened.

As Crist was voting inside the Coliseum downtown, the two candidates in the competitive state House District 52 race were appealing to voters outside. Incumbent state Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, faces a serious challenge from St. Petersburg businessman Jeff Brandes, a Republican.

"You got a lot of odds against you right now if you're a Democrat," said Heller, who said many state politicians are getting unfairly swept up in anti-Washington sentiment. "But there's nothing you can do right now except wait and count."

"It's a huge day," said Brandes. "Everything's been building toward today."

Crist arrived at 7:11 a.m., wearing a dark pinstripe suit and a red and blue striped tie. He was accompanied by his wife, Carole, who carried a small U.S. flag. Mrs. Crist, who maintains a home on Florida's east coast, had already voted early.

Crist predicted that the results of his three-way U.S. Senate race with Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek would surprise pundits.

"Today is the day we have to thread the needle, and it is a fine needle to thread," Crist said.

"We're going to have a nice surprise," said Crist, who planned to get a bagel and coffee before visiting his parents. Later, he planned to wave signs at Fourth Street and 22nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg.

Crist would not say for whom he voted to replace him as governor, Republican Rick Scott or Democrat Alex Sink.

At the polling place set up at the Great Explorations Children's Museum on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg, voter Matt Olsen said fear and uncertainty are motivating many voters. About a dozen people waited in line before the doors opened.

"I think there's been a lot of things that have happened that have made people wake up,'' said Olsen, 37, a general contractor. "People who wouldn't normally vote are coming out to vote. It's partially because we are riding a bad economy, and there's been a lot going on with stimulus packages and more spending. And then there's the health reform bill. People are more afraid of what's going on.''

At the Frank Pierce Recreation Center in St. Petersburg, about five people were in line before the doors opened. Dozens more trickled in throughout the first hour.

Democrat Gilbert Albritton, 63, a Democrat, said he is a faithful voter, but this year he has a new goal. "The purpose is to defeat the tea party, especially, and their ideas," he said. He believes the Obama administration is doing a wonderful job.

Carnell Mills, 47, said he wanted to show support for the president and to vote for Democrats. "Just because he has been elected president doesn't mean all the work has stopped, so you have to keep him in office so that he can finish the job," he said.

In Tampa, Alejandro Gonzalez was among a few voters who showed up at a former polling place on 78th Street. The polling place was moved to the nearby 78th Street Community Library. Gonzalez, a Republican, said he was conflicted by the candidates.

He liked Crist until a couple of days ago, but now he thinks he would be too tied to Democrats. And Rubio, he said, just says what people want to hear. "I'm voting for Rubio, but I don't like Rubio,'' said Gonzales, 53.

Gonzalez thinks voters will punish Democrats for being arrogant the past two years they have run the government in Washington.

At the Florida National Guard Armory in St. Petersburg, the polling place for precincts 202 and 230, workers searched all bags before voters entered. Voters were handed this note from the elections supervisor: "We have been advised by the Florida National Guard Armory that the National Security Alert has been heightened and all bags must be searched. If you are not comfortable having your bag searched, please leave it in your car.''

At the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, 5800 15 Ave. S, in Gulfport, voters were disenchanted by an expensive campaign of nasty mudslinging.

Democrat Pat Carney, 64, said it was time for some political change because things aren't going as smoothly as everybody would like. He ended up voting for Sink, but not because he loved the candidate. "I didn't think either of them were very honest, to tell you the truth," he said.

Matthew Fox, 44, an independent, said he voted for Republican Rick Scott for governor to cancel out a vote for his Democratic competitor. "I don't want Sink," he said.

Voters were disappointed with the long, expensive election.

"It's been a pain in the neck, and I'm glad it's over," Fox said. "This has been the worst. This has been ridiculous."

Whitlock of the elections office said there were three or four ballot jams Tuesday morning, but nothing significant enough to replace the scanners. This type of jamming typically happens early in the day, she said.

She said voters can wait for the scanners to be fixed or put their votes in a bin for scanning later.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Mosakowski is leading federal efforts to respond to Election Day reports of voting fraud or discrimination at the polls. To report election fraud or voting rights abuses while polls are open Tuesday, call Mosakowski at (813) 274-6177 or (813) 376-1120.

The public also can report election-related problems to the FBI at (813) 253-1000 or the voting section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., at 1-800-253-3931 or (202) 307-2767.

Election Day starts smoothly across Tampa Bay 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 6:05pm]
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