BROOKSVILLE — Ed Stout had work to do Tuesday, but first he had to tend to his civic duty.
Wearing his Cemex uniform, Stout shuffled through the doors of Precinct 22 at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville and then shuffled out a few minutes later.
The 51-year-old truck driver and registered independent is a faithful voter, but he said he couldn't get very excited about his choices this time around — or the tactics that candidates used to gain advantage over their opponents.
"I'm just trying to pick the lesser of two evils," Stout said. "There was just a lot of trash talking instead of being about something."
Battered by the recession and besieged by millions of dollars worth of negative campaign ads, local voters took to the polls Tuesday to make their voices heard in races ranging from Congress to Florida governor to Hernando County School Board.
Jacqueline Decker of Spring Hill said she had hoped the election would have drawn a better crop of candidates both locally and statewide.
"There are so many bad choices," she said after leaving her polling place at the SNPJ Hall on County Line Road. "It's hard to choose."
Voters seemed to be showing up anyway, said Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.
Williams had predicted a voter turnout of between 35 and 40 percent. Even before the polls opened at 7 a.m., there had been 10,316 ballots cast in early voting and 11,551 absentees returned.
At midafternoon, Williams said 30 percent of the registered voters had cast ballots with more expected after work hours. Williams was hoping her estimate would turn out to be on the low end.
After all the phone calls, television ads and glossy mailers, voters have to do their best, said 59-year-old James Graves of Brooksville.
"Well, let's see what kind of shape the country is in tomorrow," Graves said as he left his polling place at the Shrine Club off Sunshine Grove Road. "You listen to it for months and then you got to go out and do your part."
Two years after Barack Obama sought to usher in change Americans could believe in, voters seemed ready for change again.
Among them is Terry Harrison, 58, an industrial electrician from Brooksville who voted at the Shrine Club on Tuesday afternoon.
"Everything from local all the way up to the … top is screwed up," Harrison said. "We need to make some changes."
A Democrat, Harrison refused to vote strictly party line. He knows Wayne Dukes personally, so he said he voted for the Hernando Beach Republican over first-term incumbent Rose Rocco, the lone Democrat on the Hernando County Commission.
But Harrison also picked Democrat Diane Rowden, a former county commissioner, over Republican Rob Schenck, who sought a third term in the state House District 44 seat.
"I split my ticket this year and looked at the individual," Harrison said.
Rowden spent much of her day greeting voters at Precinct 47 in traditionally Republican Timber Pines.
"I'm chasing people through the parking lot and shaking hands with them,'' Rowden said just before putting that plan to action with the latest arrival.
"I appreciate your consideration for your vote,'' she called to the next voter walking by. "I'll work hard for you.''
George Gray of Brooksville said he showed up at Grace World Church to try to undo "some of the crap from the last election."
Clearly not a fan of Obama or the Democrats, the 79-year-old retiree voted Republican, and that included Rick Scott over Democrat Alex Sink.
Gray said he wasn't concerned with questions about what Scott knew about Medicare fraud committed by Columbia/HCA when he was president and chief executive officer. The company paid record fines and pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges for a variety of transgressions, but Scott was never charged with a crime.
"He's not in jail," Gray said. "If they could have put his a-- in jail, they would have. And Sink? That's what I hope happens to her. She sinks."
Darline Tucker, a 68-year-old retired nurse from Brooksville who also voted at Grace Church, went with Sink because of her union endorsements. Tucker, a registered Republican, said her husband has been a union member for years, and she was wary of Scott.
"I just didn't get a good feeling," Tucker said. "I listened to him, but I go with my instincts."
Spring Hill voter Raymond Brown said he was disappointed with the negative political ads on TV, especially by Republican candidates.
"I hate that so many people seem to want to go backwards," Brown said. "I think we need to stay on track and get the job done we started two years ago."
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Wendell Burris whistled and jingled the change in his pockets as he leaned against a post on the porch of the South Brooksville Community Center on Tuesday morning.
But when a voter would approach on the sidewalk leading up to Precinct 11 on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Burris sprang to action, getting the door and giving a greeting.
"Just come on in," Burris liked to say. "We've been waiting for you."
Burris, 70, has served as a poll deputy for the last three elections. The retired salesman arrived at the precinct at 6 a.m. and probably wouldn't leave until past 8 p.m.
"Just to be part of the election," he said. "It's a great privilege."
Precinct 11 contains a significant amount of African-American voters. Among those who showed up Tuesday was Claudia Mobley, 51.
Mobley said she was excited to cast a vote for Kendrick Meek, the underdog in the U.S. Senate race behind Gov. Charlie Crist, who abandoned the GOP to run as an independent, and Republican frontrunner Marco Rubio.
"Not because he's black. Let's get that straight right now," Mobley said. "I just like what he stands for. It's not about color, it's doing what you say you're going to do for the people."
Mobley said she wanted candidates who will work to spur the government to help Americans, particularly young people, in a tough economy.
"To get a job, to get off welfare, to really become part of the community," she said. "If you help these kids with an education, they can really become productive members of society."
Alice Waybright, who voted Tuesday at Forest Oaks Lutheran Church, said the Senate race brought her out.
"I just hate Rubio," she said. "He scares me. We don't need him at all."
Not long after Mobley left the Brooksville community center, her cousin Darryl Mobley arrived to vote.
The 41-year-old youth counselor and father of two high school students said he couldn't support easing the restrictions on class sizes.
"I actually think the smaller the class size, the better the kids learn," Mobley said. "If it's a situation where you need to hire more teachers, hire them. They found money to build a Taj Mahal (courthouse in Tallahassee), they ought to find enough money to pay the teachers."
But Mobley said he also is concerned about the economy, so he could not support the referendum giving the Hernando School Board the ability to raise the tax rate by 25 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value.
"We need to start using the money we got," Mobley said. "Raising the taxes is killing the economy."
Jimmy Daniel had the U.S. House race on his mind Tuesday. The 61-year-old contractor, who also voted at the South Brooksville Community Center, said he supports Hernando County Sheriff Rich Nugent for the District 5 seat currently held by Ginny Brown-Waite.
Daniel said he respects Nugent for his diplomatic skills but said he also has his reservations about the Republican sheriff.
"I just wish Nugent was a little more outspoken," Daniel said. "He's a very quiet-spoken man, and I think that's going to be a hindrance to him before it's all over."
Thomas Willett voted for Democrats, including Nugent's opponent.
Willett, 53, said he is most concerned about Social Security and worries about Republican talk of privatizing the program. He also said the Democrats and President Obama need more time to stabilize a foundering country.
"I figure if Democrats get in now it will help the president, and hopefully he gets re-elected," Willett said. "That gives him another four years and by then I think the Democrats will have things worked out."
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County Commission District 2 candidate Republican Wayne Dukes spent a frustrating Election Day not waving to voters but rather hurrying from one end of the county to another trying to do "damage control.'' A number of his campaign signs had been removed and others had been surrounded by the signs of other candidates.
As it turns out, it was county code enforcement officers who were doing much of the sign removal, according to Liana Teague, animal services and code enforcement manager.
"We got a complaint a month ago regarding candidates not following the sign rules,'' she said. "On Election Day, they were putting signs on county property and on county rights of way … so the staff went out and removed the signs from county property.''
Signs on private property were not touched. She added, "We had a very specific complaint, and we had to take care of it.''
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.