TAMPA — Steve Weinberg had his mind made up, so he decided not to wait. On Monday, he was one of more than 1,200 Hillsborough County voters to go to the polls to get a head start in the Republican presidential primary.
"I wanted to get it over with," said Weinberg, 64, who works in real estate and voted in northern Hillsborough. "He may not be as conservative as the others, but I went for (Mitt) Romney because he's electable."
Early voting has begun in Hillsborough for the Jan. 31 Republican presidential preference primary, ahead of most of the rest of the state.
State legislators last year made controversial changes to election laws, including trimming the early voting period.
But the old laws still stand in Hillsborough and four other counties with a history of racial discrimination — Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry — until the federal government approves the changes.
Early voting in other Tampa Bay counties will begin Saturday.
Monday's turnout was about a third of that of the first day of early voting in 2008. But that year, both political parties had presidential preference primaries.
At Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library north of Carrollwood, where Romney and Ron Paul signs lined the parking lot, more than 150 people had cast votes by late afternoon.
Kathleen Paynter and her husband, Randy, showed up so that their 10-year-old son, Aaron, who was out of school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, could watch.
Kathleen voted for Newt Gingrich, and Randy voted for Rick Santorum.
"I feel like (Gingrich) is the one who has a chance to come up against (President Barack) Obama," said Kathleen, 51. "He can out-debate him."
Randy said he had considered Gingrich, too, but instead went with his instinct.
Santorum "is honest. He's the most conservative," said Randy, 46. "If people listen to their hearts, I think he has a chance."
Aaron piped up that he likes Romney. "Only because he's in the lead," his father teased.
It wasn't quite as lively at the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library, which is in a mostly Democratic neighborhood off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. No Republican campaign had even bothered with signs.
By about 4:30 p.m., only four people had shown up to vote, said Linda Wright, a clerk with the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office. She sent six poll workers home early.
"It's a holiday, so that's where people's minds are" she said. "We expect tomorrow there'll be a big change."
She looked out the door. Up the sidewalk came voter No. 5.
"Well, here comes Mr. Posey," she said.
Marvin Posey, the 80-year-old owner of Posey Power Batteries, said he voted for Romney.
"He's a good, religious man," said Posey. "He may be a different religion, but that's okay." (Romney is a Mormon.)
Posey said he thinks Romney is someone who's "completely different" and will shake things up in Washington.
Does he think Romney can win? He wasn't sure. He was surprised that a few more Republicans hadn't shown up at his polling site.
"Five all day long?" he asked. "That worries me bad."
Reach Jodie Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.