BROOKSVILLE — A record turnout is expected today as Hernando County voters swarm polling precincts to cast ballots in the most high-stakes election in recent history.
"I'm expecting a great day," said Elections Supervisor Annie Williams. "With the excitement we've seen so far, it's just going to be great."
The epic race for the White House on down to the mudslinging contests for Hernando County Commission have brought registered voters out in record numbers so far.
More than one in three Hernando County voters — 41,839, or 34 percent — submitted ballots through 7 p.m. Saturday. That trumped the 2004 election, when one in four voted early.
Even so, Williams said she anticipates some lines at the polling sites today but she said her staff can handle the crowds.
"The longest time is actually going to be spent in the booth for those still unfamiliar with the ballot," she said.
For the local political parties, Election Day doesn't mean the campaign ends. Republicans and Democrats will spend the day chasing outstanding absentee ballots, offering rides to the precincts and educating voters about the candidates.
Democrats lead in terms of party turnout so far —18,699 voters compared with 17,128 Republican voters. The GOP is winning the absentee ballot contest by 2,044 but Democrats made up the difference with a 3,615 lead in early voting, according to the elections office.
In a last-ditch attempt to persuade voters, Democratic volunteers will hold signs and hand out literature at precincts and Republican volunteers will occupy popular street corners, waving signs.
"We are working very hard," said Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the Hernando Republican Party. "The mood is that we are not believing the polls. We are seeing Hernando County as a win for (Sen. John) McCain."
Her Democratic counterpart, Jay Rowden, was nervously optimistic Monday.
"You don't know about these things, but everyone is really fired up," he said. "I feel good about it."
Election Day is typically a nerve-racking day for candidates, too.
District 1 County Commission candidate Ramon Gutierrez was feeling good about the positive responses he received on the campaign trail.
"I feel good. I feel confident," the Democrat said. "I think it's going to be up to the voters.''
Times Staff Writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.