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Power outages in Pinellas County cause concern about polling sites

Early morning storms caused multiple power outages across Pinellas County, raising concerns about whether voting was being affected.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office said the power was out for 10 minutes at precincts 203 and 204 at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. At precinct 205, Prayer Tower Church of God, the power was out for close to 45 minutes. Everyone was able to vote.

"The ballot scanners all have battery backup, so if there was a power outage, it should not affect the voting," said Nancy Whitlock, communications director for the Supervisor of Elections.

A Progress Energy Florida map showed 30 areas in Pinellas County were affected at 7:20 this morning, totalling more than 5,000 customers.

Heidi Kay, who lives in the East Lake area of northeast Pinellas, went to vote at the East Lake Community Library after the power went out at her house, preventing her from doing computer work. Then she found the power was out at the polling place, too.

"When I pulled up, the workers there told me the power was out, but everyone was calm,'' said Kay, 48. "They guided me through the dark to where I needed to sign in and told me the equipment was being run on a generator.''

While the power was off, Precinct 638 continued operating, said Linda Walburn , a communications staffer in the elections office.

"The workers used a scanner battery backup,'' Walburn said. "They also used flashlights, or used the daylight, to look up voter information.''

A morning storm had blown tree branches into power lines, causing a small fire down the street from the library, according to Rob Sumner, spokesman for Progress Energy. From about 8:36 to 9:33 a.m., workers kept the power off while they cleared away the debris.

"It was a pretty quick fix,'' Sumner said.

Kay admitted she was glad she had studied the lengthy constitutional amendments on the ballot before going into the darkened library.

"It wasn't pitch black, but it wasn't particularly easy to see the ballot, so it was a good thing I didn't have to read all that print,'' she said. "But I just want to say that I left feeling very proud. You hear about all this trouble, and here in East Lake, they got it right.''

By 10:30 a.m., the number of Pinellas customers without power was below 800, according to Progress Energy.

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4:20 p.m., Hernando County: As of late afternoon, nearly every precinct in Hernando was reporting voter turnout in excess of 50 percent. The two highest were in the Timber Pines retirement community in Spring Hill. Precinct 35, at the Timber Pines Lodge, reported 80 percent turnout; the turnout in Precinct 47, at the Timber Pines Performing Arts Center, was 84 percent.

A new interactive map available through the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office showed voter turnout. Links to the map can be found at the elections office website, hernandovotes.com, and on the county's website, hernandocounty.us.

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12:39 p.m., Tampa: After being down earlier in the day, phone lines at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections were working again, officials said.

All polling places in Hillsborough opened at 7 a.m., and voting has been taking place despite the intermittent service at the elections service center.

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12:30 p.m., Washington D.C.: During a news conference, a national coalition of voting rights groups raised a concern about voting in Hillsborough County.

Specifically, the group said, an unspecified number of Hillsborough voters who showed up at what they believed to be their correct polling places on Tuesday reportedly were directed to other polling sites.

"In Tampa," said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, polling places "are redirecting voters to another precinct and having them vote a provisional ballot."

Later, Dara Lindenbaum of the Lawyers Committee said voters had been given incorrect instructions to vote provisionally at the University Area Community Development Center on N 22nd Street in Tampa. The center contains the polling place for precincts 562, 566 and 567.

"Remember the law in Florida," Arnwine said during a teleconferenced briefing held by the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition. "Florida is a correct precinct voting state. So when you're sent to a wrong precinct to vote and vote a provisional ballot, there's a huge problem about whether or not it will be counted. And here it's not the voters' error. It's an administrative decision of the poll workers at polling places to send them to the wrong precinct. We're very worried."

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office spokesman Travis Abercrombie said he had not heard of the concern before the Times called him about it.

In a news release, the elections office reminded voters to vote in their precincts on election day or to go to any of the four offices of the Supervisor of Elections and obtain an "in-person" absentee ballot. The addresses of those offices are at votehillsborough.org. Click on the absentee ballot instructions highlighted in yellow.

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Noon, St. Petersburg: About a dozen people waited in line outside the Campbell Park Recreation Center.

Greigette Lusignan, a church secretary, said she voted for Romney.

"He is prolife," she said. "It's a definite deciding factor."

Moments later, Pamela Fowler, on disability after suffering strokes, said she voted for Obama, in part because of his support of the automobile industry in the beginning of his term, his focus on Hurricane Sandy recovery during the campaign and his health care reform.

"I want him back in office because he's a good president," Fowler said.

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11:10 a.m., Tampa: When Steve Brady, 37, arrived to vote at St. Mary's Catholic Church on N Boulevard this morning, it was his third attempt.

He said Precinct 579's usual voting location had changed, although he was never notified — the building was empty when he arrived. Brady saw a polling place at a nearby church, but was turned away because it was for a different precinct. He eventually found his way to St. Mary's.

The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office issued reminders Tuesday that voters must vote in their correct precinct on Election Day — or come to any of the four elections offices to obtain an "in-person" absentee ballot.

Brady, who works for a printing company in Tampa, said he voted for a third-party candidate because "both of the (major parties') candidates are are horrible people.

"I believe we need more than two choices," he said, "and I'm casting my vote because we have to start moving in that direction — even if it's slowly.

"The system's not working."

Election workers at St. Mary's said they had experienced some trouble with voting machines failing to scan ballots earlier this morning, but that they had been resolved. Some voters were delayed, they said, but none were turned away.

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10:55 a.m., Weeki Wachee. Early voting isn't for everyone.

Regina Bessel, 48, a resident of the Heather, north of Weeki Wachee, said she prefers voting on Election Day 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 waiting to vote at the Heather Community Center. "Being here and seeing people exercising an important right is what makes us Americans."

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10:25 a.m., Spring Hill. People were waiting at some polling places when they opened at 7 a.m. Steady rain fell through the first couple of hours of voting, though skies began clearing by midmorning.

At 10 a.m., a line of about 50 people waited to vote at Fellowship Community Church on Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill.

Several voters reported that they were turned away when they attempted to vote at the National Guard Armory on Spring Hill Drive. Their polling places had changed since the 2010 election, and they were told they had to vote at their new precinct.

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10:20 a.m., St. Petersburg. At the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections' office at 501 First Ave. N, voters dropping off ballots did not receive the traditional "I VOTED" sticker for voting. The office did not have any in stock.

Upon learning about this, Nancy Whitlock, communications director for the Supervisor of Elections, said they would get some more stickers down there.

10:15 a.m., South Pasadena: Precinct 214 had 80 ballots that couldn't be counted because they got wet, according to poll worker Tim Bledsoe. The scanner kept rejecting the ballots so the workers put them in a locked separate area of the scanner box. They said they will try to rescan them at 7 pm.

10 a.m., St. Petersburg. At the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, the scanning machine jammed for about 15 minutes, said machine manager Mildred Reece.

But the problem was fixed and voting was running smoothly, without long lines.

"It was a minor problem," Reece said.

9:45 a.m., Dade City: Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley tweeted about one voter's gripe:

"Voter complained 'blue' tape we use to designate line to optical scanner is a 'subliminal' message to vote Dem! Seriously?"

Corley, a Republican who retained his office this year without opposition, sent a followup tweet a half-hour later noting the voter was mistaken.

"Irony is that we used to use 'red' tape so maybe we need to switch to a 'neutral' color?"

By 10 a.m., Corley noted, 28,715 Pasco residents had cast Election Day ballots. Combined with absentee and early voting, nearly 48 percent of Pasco voters have now cast their ballots.

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9:30 a.m., University of South Florida/Tampa: It took students about an hour to make it through the line this morning at USF's voting precinct in the Marshall Student Center. Most students waited silently. Two young women at the front of the line took photos of themselves, saying, "I look great, not gonna lie."

Elections official Kevin Connell said some students have been voting in the wrong precinct, which caused much confusion in the 2010 Florida senatorial and gubernatorial elections, but lessened due to the amount of early voting.

About 100 feet away, three student demonstrators held up signs saying Vote No on Amendment 6, which would prohibit public funds from being used on abortion services.

Becky Killik, a second-year master's student studying women's and gender studies, said they would be out there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She said they have been visiting local polling stations, the school library and other areas breaking down the 11 proposed Florida amendments to voters.

"People come up and, 'What is this?' and then they're like, 'Oh, we got your back,' " Killik said.

Mia Lawrie, a senior double-majoring in biomedical sciences and women's studies, said this was the first presidential campaign she had volunteered in, including phonebanking for Vote No on Amendment 6.

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9:30 a.m., Carrollwood: A trickle of voters were arriving mid-morning at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library in Carrollwood.

The line was down the block at 7 a.m., but it's been slow since then.

Among the voters were Myra Bishop, 82, and her husband, William Bishop, 85. Both voted for Mitt Romney, though they have supported Democratic presidential candidates in the past.

Myra Bishop described Obama as a "socialist-communist.''

"Obama is against America. We've gotta do something about it,'' she said.

William Bishop, wearing a green hat with a yellow outline of the continental United States, said the president is on the wrong path.

He said the biggest reason they came out to vote was to show opposition to Obamacare.

Pranita Nirgudkar, 35, a physician, also voted for Romney.

"Obamacare is going to hurt patients in the long run,'' she said. "Eventually it is going to decrease doctor reimbursements and increase our patient load. Doctors are only human. Eventually, more patients is going to affect quality of care.''

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9 a.m., St. Petersburg: At the Westminster Presbyterian Church, voters holding umbrellas and wearing rain coats hurriedly walked in. A small line of about a dozen people formed outside about 9 am.

Among them was Matthew Lee, who voted for Romney.

"The most important thing that came through over and over again was the spending that Obama overtook and the debt he overtook," Lee said.

8:15, East Tampa: At the C. Blythe Andrew Jr. Public Library, the line of voters soon after the polls opened was about 50 people deep. Most people were carrying umbrellas to ward off the rain.

Alana Mitchell, 27, had been standing in line for 20 minutes, and had about another half-hour to go.

"It doesn't matter, because you can't complain if you don't do your part to make a difference," she said.

Mitchell said she was voting for Obama.

"It was so messed up when he came into office," she said. "He's been doing what he can, but he needs more time. Bush did some of that."

Loretha Barthel, 55, a retired school teacher, was standing at 33rd and 26th streets, leading chants of, "Fired up, ready to go."

She voted early supporting Obama, and said nearly all of the 400 people in her neighborhood registered early and voted early.

Why Obama?

"The economy is actually growing. Anyone who says otherwise is not looking at the big picture."

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7 a.m., Land O'Lakes: More than 100 voters stood outside the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center in the pouring rain as the precinct opened, their line winding around the building as they waited for their chance to vote. It took about 30 minutes to get inside from the back of the queue.

By 8 a.m., the wait had dwindled away. Voters came at a slow but steady stream in the drizzle to cast their ballots.

The driving force behind their interest centered on the presidential election, and their hopes for the nation's future.

"We were promised one thing and didn't get it," said Shawn Brown, 37, a Hillsborough County firefighter. Mitt Romney "might not be the right answer … but he's a better choice than what the president has offered."

Barbara Millar, 60, focused on health care issues for seniors and women.

"I'm a Republican who voted for Obama because I do not like what Mitt Romney did not say about health care," Millar said, explaining that she feared that Romney would hurt Social Security, Medicare and health insurance programs. "I worked very hard in the early '70s to change women's health and women's rights. I do not want to see those things go down the tubes."

Voters said they were not deterred by the threat of long lines or the lengthy ballot. Most said they did their homework ahead of time, and had no problem making it to the final item: the Penny for Pasco sales tax initiative.

Insurance agency owner Kelly Jones, 53, said he firmly opposed the tax extension.

"I am opposed to giving the government additional money until they can prove to me they spend it wisely," he said.

Erica Wiggins, 24, came down strongly in favor.

"I appreciate that they support some environmental funding," she said. "That's what I support."

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6:45 a.m., St. Petersburg: A line of about two dozen people formed outside the Coliseum.

Among them was Barbara Church Mathis, who said her vote was based on her Christian values. Some of the most important issues to her, Mathis said, were Medicare and education.

"I'm glad it's going to be over with," Mathis said, referring to the election season and recalling some of the more tense moments between the candidates. "It's been a journey."

Marguerite Mastry Dawson was the first voter at the Coliseum.

She was wearing a rain jacket and socks imprinted with the American flag and a shirt emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty. In the presidential election, she said she voted for Obama.

"I'm a Democrat through and through," Dawson said. "It was a tough year. Bush left a lot of bad things for him (Obama) to overcome and it just takes more time."

Power outages in Pinellas County cause concern about polling sites 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 5:21pm]
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