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Expect record voter turnout today in Hernando

Elizabeth Townsend, community relations coordinator for the Hernando County supervisor of elections, carries a voting machine to a precinct coordinator’s vehicle Monday morning in Spring Hill. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. today.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Elizabeth Townsend, community relations coordinator for the Hernando County supervisor of elections, carries a voting machine to a precinct coordinator’s vehicle Monday morning in Spring Hill. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. today.

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 jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

>>Fast facts

Five things to watch for on Election Day

1. Precinct 11 in South Brooksville. Local Democrats and the Obama campaign put a priority on registering voters in this heavily African-American precinct. The question is whether the voters will turn out. The answer will help determine whether Obama can turn Hernando into a Democratic county.

2. U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Brooksville) faces her nemesis John Russell again. Russell hopes the national anti-incumbent mood toward Congress, and Obama's coattails, will lift him to victory. Plus, Brown-Waite barely hit the campaign trail this year.

3. The effect of negative campaigning in County Commission District 3. Democratic incumbent Diane Rowden is fighting unprecedented attacks from two outside pro-development groups who hope to boost her challenger, Republican John Druzbick.

4. Supervisor of Elections Annie D. Williams' dual role. The Democrat is overseeing an all-important election as she faces a tough race against Republican Shirley Anderson and Gus Guadagnino, who has no party affiliation.

5. Who votes will tell us who wins. From the presidential race on down, it's a turnout game as the local parties try to rally their supporters. This factor alone could decide the election.

To track these evolving story lines and voting in Hernando County today, visit tampabay.com for constant updates.

>>Fast facts

Need help voting?

Both major political parties are answering voters' questions, offering rides to precincts and picking up outstanding absentee ballots. To contact them:

Hernando County

Democratic Party

(352) 238-6299

Hernando County

Republican Party

(352) 796-4741

Expect record voter turnout today in Hernando 11/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 7:58pm]

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