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So far, voting in bay area glides on enthusiasm and patience

People line up to vote early in Pompano Beach on Wednesday. In South Florida, waits of more than four hours reflect turnout.

Associated Press

People line up to vote early in Pompano Beach on Wednesday. In South Florida, waits of more than four hours reflect turnout.

At the Bloomingdale Regional Library in Valrico, the line for early voters started two hours before the polls opened at 10 a.m.

"We had a senior citizen waiting on the bench outside this morning at 8:01," said elections clerk Frank Behrendt.

But that was the longest wait anyone has reported throughout the Tampa Bay region this week as thousands of voters lined up to cast their ballots two weeks prior to Election Day.

Throughout Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough counties — and, with a few exceptions, statewide — elections officials and voting advocates say there have been no real problems so far.

"There are some glitches, but so far nothing seems to be serious," said Dan McRae of the non-partisan Florida Voters Foundation. "We're recommending everybody be patient."

So far, any long waiting lines have been due to enthusiasm about the hotly contested presidential election this year — not any voting glitches.

Statewide, more than 150,000 voters have cast their ballots so far this week, according to Jennifer Davis of the Florida Division of Elections. By far the longest waits have been in South Florida. The Miami Herald found voters waiting in line for four hours in Miami-Dade County.

In Broward County, voters face a ballot that goes on for four pages. Each ballot must be printed when the voter checks in. On Wednesday, the county elections office began posting wait times on its Web site, listing three hours for the line at Miramar City Hall. Chairs were provided for elderly voters waiting in line.

Some voters began cruising past polling places to see where and when the lines were shortest.

"I came on Monday, saw that the lines were really bad," said Yolanda Consuelo Rams, a John McCain supporter in Plantation. "I also drove by on Tuesday and spoke to some people, and they said they had been waiting for more than eight hours. When I came by Wednesday I saw that the lines weren't as long, so I thought that this was a great time for me to do it."

In Hillsborough County, as many as 100 people waited in line, but most said they were done in less than an hour. At the College Hill Library, in the heart of Tampa's black community, the number of people casting votes in the first two days of early voting was more than twice the first two days in 2004. On Wednesday, 561 people voted there.

Tonya Bostick, 36, was one of them. She arrived at the library with a folding chair. Typically, she said, she waits until election day to vote, but this year, she was too excited about Barack Obama's candidacy to wait.

"It's like Christmas," she said.

A late afternoon breeze made the wait tolerable for the Spencer family of Lithia. Dan and Cathy stood in a line that snaked outside the Bloomingdale library doors with their 20-year-old daughter, Meghan. Wednesday was her first time voting, and the couple's first time doing so early. They wanted to beat the Election Day crowds and still accompany their daughter to the polls.

"We decided to avoid the crazy," Mrs. Spencer said. "And plus, this is her first time voting, and we all wanted to do it together."

At Hillsborough's 13 early voting sites, 8,214 people cast ballots Wednesday, according to Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson. In three days, 25,976 ballots have been cast, he reported Wednesday.

Every day in Pasco County has been record-breaking, said elections supervisor Brian Corley. By Wednesday, nearly 13,000 people had made their selections, and half of the 41,000 absentee ballots requested had been mailed in. There have been hourlong waits, he said, but voters have told him the optical scan voting system is working.

"It seems to be restoring voter confidence," he said.

In Pinellas County, where Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark has been criticized for offering the minimum number of early voting locations required by law, three days of early voting have brought in more than 8,000 ballots so far.

"Lunchtime is the busiest time," Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for the elections office said. "But I don't see anybody waiting more than half an hour at the longest."

In Hernando County, elections supervisor Annie Williams said the longest wait is about 20 minutes. One suggestion to lessen the time: "Make your decisions before you get there," she said.

For Regina Martin, 61, of Brooksville, coming early to vote is a precaution. She works, volunteers and attends classes, so she didn't know if she'd have time to vote Nov. 4. "I might be pushed for time. I might forget," she reasoned. "I do everything early."

In Carrollwood, Noreen Follman, 76, sat working a crossword puzzle while waiting to get into the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library. For her, the wait was worth it.

"I want to make very certain my vote counts and no one tells me they've run out of ballots or anything like that," she said. "This line is long but I have a feeling it will be a lot longer on Election Day."

Anyone who wants to avoid the lines altogether has another option, said Davis of the Division of Elections: "Get on the phone and request an absentee ballot be mailed to you."

Times staff writers John Frank, Chandra Broadwater, Janet Zink, Erin Sullivan, Will Van Sant and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.

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So far, voting in bay area glides on enthusiasm and patience 10/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 5:43pm]

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