An early flood of voters dwindled to a steady trickle Tuesday as Hernando County cast ballots in this all-important election year.
Only sporadic glitches were reported; poll workers gave the wrong ballots to an unknown number of voters at a Brooksville and a Spring Hill polling locations. At least one electronic voter identification machine also malfunctioned, but it was quickly replaced.
The polls closed at 7 p.m. with voter turnout unclear (see local results in TampaBay). In 2004, 74 percent of county voters filled ovals.
Early voting topped all expectations and through mid afternoon, elections officials received 20,056 absentee ballots. Fewer than 1 percent (or 135) were disqualified for not complying with state law.
Many voters hit the polls early, arriving as early as 5:50 a.m. at Grace Presbyterian Church on Spring Hill Drive. Down the street at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, more than 200 people were waiting when doors opened at 7 a.m.
Once the lines began flowing, voters moved briskly and waits were nonexistent for much of the day.
Voters of all stripes made sure their voices were heard, such as Carl Stephenson, a 66-year-old Republican who stuck to his party's leader mostly because of Sen. John McCain's foreign policy views. "I think that's going to be a big reason why older people vote for him," he said.
Ericka Simmons went the other direction, supporting Democrat Sen. Barack Obama.
The 28-year-old cast her ballot at precinct 11, the heart of Brooksville's African-American community where Democratic organizers put significant emphasis on turning out new voters.
It was Simmons' first election, despite being registered for some time. "There's just never been anyone that really motivated me," she said.
Others came to the polls still undecided. Charlotte Foe, 55, brought her daughter, Debbie Buttmi, 25, to cast their votes at the National Guard Armory near the airport.
"They both had very good ideas ... it was not a slam-dunk at all," Foe said. "But I went with Obama. I was looking for a change."
Elections officials said the two early missteps occurred at two split precincts (5 and 29), where voters get different ballots depending on where they live within the district.
"As long as you have the human element, you are going to have something happen," said Annie D. Williams, the supervisor of elections. "It seems to be pretty smooth except for the minor problems."
In Brooksville, some voters received ballots without the City Council races. They were left without recourse after they put them through the machine, Williams said.
The elections chief blamed it on "poll worker error," saying they didn't check the voter's receipt close enough and issued the wrong ballot. She said it happened early and was hastily resolved.
Brooksville Mayor David Pugh, who is running for re-election, was troubled with the problems.
"It's disappointing, especially when it's not that difficult to get it right," Pugh said. "We should have people at the polls educated about what races should be at that location."
One of Pugh's two opponents, Cecil Davis, said he was prepared to formally protest the race if the result was within a handful of votes.
"My understanding is that what's done is done and there's no way of fixing it," Davis said. "I'm not going to raise Cain about it unless it comes down to four or five votes. I'm a little disappointed because I voted for Annie."
A similar story unfolded in Spring Hill, where at least one voter and possibly others, received ballots without the controversial local referendum about whether to dissolve the Spring Hill Fire Rescue district.
Lawrence Phippard reported the error. The 67-year-old retiree questioned poll workers at his precinct about why the referendum wasn't on his ballot but they said he didn't live in the fire district. Elections officials later confirmed he did live in the district and called him with an apology.
Phippard said he wasn't the only voter who received the wrong ballot when he voted, but officials aren't sure how many received the wrong one.
"Other than the presidential race, that was an important issue to me," Phippard said. "I had strong feelings about it. I wanted to see the fire district remain independent from the county."
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.