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Alternative voting in Tampa Bay area similar to state turnout

One out of five voters in the Tampa Bay area already has cast a ballot for Tuesday's general election.

And across Florida, 24 percent of registered voters have cast ballots either by absentee ballot or visiting an early voting site.

The numbers, which are tallies of votes cast through Tuesday, suggest Florida has fully embraced alternative voting and participation will easily eclipse the 27 percent mark set in the last presidential election.

Early voting continues from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Friday and for 12 more hours this weekend. Wednesday was the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot by mail, but they can still be picked up in person at county elections offices.

The numbers also suggest that the controversial policy of Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark to emphasize absentee voting over early voting sites hasn't suppressed the quantity of early ballots cast.

According to numbers made available early Wednesday, 373,669 people across Tampa Bay had voted using absentee ballots or by showing up at early voting centers.

That was 21 percent of the 1.8-million voters in the four-county region that includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

In Pinellas County, where 22 percent of registered voters had already cast ballots, fewer than one-fifth of early votes were cast at the county's three early voting sites, the minimum required by law. The rest were absentee ballots.

In Hillsborough County, where participation was at 19 percent, three-fifths of early votes were cast at early voting sites.

Clark said pre-Election Day turnout could easily hit 35 percent, matching the participation rate in the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Absentee ballots remain the favorite early voting method, used by about 60 percent of voters so far in Tampa Bay.

Republicans are more likely to vote by absentee, while Democrats are more likely to visit early voting sites. In Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, returns show that is still the case.

But after Republican Gov. Charlie Crist expanded hours at early voting sites across the state on Tuesday, it's to be determined which method will provide the best partisan advantage in this presidential election.

While many are voting early, not everyone is voting successfully.

The Hillsborough canvassing board reviewed more than 100 questionable absentee ballots Wednesday, and more than half were immediately discarded because voters had not signed the outside of the ballot envelope as required.

"I want the voters to know how important it is if they're going to vote absentee that they follow the correct procedures," said canvassing board member Kevin White.

There are three ways to vote before Election Day. One is to show up at an early voting center. Another is to mail or personally deliver an absentee ballot you've already received or expect to receive soon. Counties have opened drop off locations for this purpose.

The third way: Although Wednesday was the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail, voters can still request one in person at the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Many supervisors have expanded hours to drop off these ballots, which must be returned to the elections office by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

In addition, voters can ask a friend or relative to pick up an absentee ballot for them. All the pick-up person needs is their ID and a signed note from the voter.

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report.

Alternative voting in Tampa Bay area similar to state turnout 10/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008 3:20pm]
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