Many Hernando residents prefer casting ballots on the real Election Day

Ricky Robertson woke up Tuesday morning and donned his Old Glory shorts and patriotic bow tie before soldiering forth into a chilly rain.

The 28-year-old Brooksville resident could have voted early or mailed in an absentee ballot. Instead, he arrived at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville shortly after 9 a.m. That left him plenty of time to change into his black work pants and report for duty at Publix in Homosassa, where he's employed in customer service.

"It's Election Day," Robertson said. "I just wanted to experience the day."

That was a common refrain among voters young and old as they waited in line at their polling places Tuesday or slapped "I voted" stickers onto their chests.

Regina Bessel, 48, a resident of the Heather, north of Weeki Wachee, said she prefers voting on Election Day to early voting because it makes her feel more a part of the process.

"I know friends that do early voting because it's easier for them, but that's not for me," Bessel said as she stood in line at the Heather Community Center. "Being here and seeing people exercising an important right is what makes us Americans."

Other voters said they don't like the uncertainty that comes with dropping an absentee ballot in the mail. And some like to wait in case a candidate makes last-minute news that could change minds.

Traffic was brisk at polling places around the county Tuesday, with many reporting well over 50 percent turnout by late afternoon. The two precincts at Timber Pines were over 80 percent.

Still, early and absentee voting are a boon for voters juggling family duties and unpredictable work schedules. Others just like to get it out of the way.

Of the county's 123,332 registered voters, more than 24,000 returned absentee ballots in recent weeks. Another 12,728 took advantage of early voting at the elections offices in Brooksville and Spring Hill. That's not a record, compared to 2008, but it's a high number considering state lawmakers reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight.

Early voting has become so popular that voters reported wait times of up to two hours at the Forest Oaks office in Spring Hill. By comparison, voters at many polling places saw short, if any, lines on Tuesday.

Paul and Carol D'Aquisto weren't so lucky, waiting for about an hour at Fellowship Community Church on Spring Hill Drive on Tuesday morning as a steady light rain fell.

They didn't complain.

"Umbrella, raincoat, ready to go," said Carol D'Aquisto, 69.

Things went smoothly, she said. The couple researched the issues beforehand and filled out their sample ballots, making for an easy day at the polls — a lot easier than some of her friends, who had to return to the elections office three times to cast their early ballots.

"The lines were so long it was ridiculous," Carol D'Aquisto said.

Brooke Seaman, a 24-year-old from Spring Hill, also said she likes voting on Election Day. She cast her presidential ballot for Barack Obama, as she did in the last election.

"Honestly, I feel like he's done a good job of running this country so far," Seaman said. "We have a lot of work to do, but he's done a lot in four years."

She said some of the positions Mitt Romney took during the campaign scared her — especially when it came to women's reproductive rights.

"The fact that he would even propose to take away a right that's already been given of one's own body … that makes me feel like our country would go backward in progression," she said. "I feel like we as a country have gone past the point of taking away rights. I feel like we're more civilized than that."

Curtis Gadow, 47, wore his vote on his custom-designed gray T-shirt as he stood outside Grace Presbyterian Church in Spring Hill.

"WORST PRESIDENT EVER," it read on the front. "BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA. WORST EVER. EVER!!!!"

He is a Romney supporter who came out Tuesday, as he put it, to "try and end the reign of Obama."

"He's doubled our deficit, he's destroyed our economy and he's lied about everything he's promised he would do," Gadow said.

He said he didn't mind waiting in line to vote. He and his wife considered voting early, but ultimately decided against it.

"We kind of don't trust it a bit," Gadow said.

The rain had blown through by the time 67-year-old Wanda Larkin cast her ballot at the South Brooksville Community Center.

Larkin doesn't see very well, and she uses a wheelchair, so filling out one of the longest Florida ballots in recent memory in the comfort of her home probably would have been more convenient. But there's something reassuring about feeding her ballot into the machine on Election Day, she said.

"I feel better about it," Larkin said. "I know it's counted if it's in that box. I don't trust the mail."

Eileen Mullahey was among those who waited in a long line at the Forest Oaks elections office to cast an early vote prior to Tuesday. The 57-year-old Spring Hill resident didn't mind.

"It was some family bonding time," Mullahey said.

As a driver for the Grande retirement home in Brooksville, though, Mullahey did more than her fair share to assist the democratic process, helping to deliver many completed absentee ballots from the home's roughly 85 residents. On Tuesday, she drove Harold and Catherine Mascher to the South Brooksville Community Center.

Harold, an 87-year-old veteran who was among the Navy seamen who abandoned the sinking USS Susan B. Anthony off Normandy during World War II, made his way to the door leaning on a carved wooden cane. Catherine's cane was shiny, colorful and metallic.

They've always voted this way, and probably always will.

"I like meeting people," Harold said, "and it gets you the hell out of the house."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431.

Many Hernando residents prefer casting ballots on the real Election Day 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 6:52pm]

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