Day could bring a record turnout for voter apathy

It was 7:30 in the morning and Pasco School Board candidate Joanne Hurley made her third stop of the day. She already had visited polling sites at the Land O'Lakes Community Center and the county recreation center and planned a trip to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Leonard Road in Lutz. In between, she pulled into precinct 140 at Harvester United Methodist Church.

She had no trouble finding a parking spot. Two campaign supporters held signs for their favored candidates and a poll worker stood at the front door.

"Where are all the voters?'' she lamented.

It would become the question of the day. There had been seven, so far, at the rec center, she said. Ditto for the Methodist church 30 minutes after the doors opened. There hasn't been a turnout this light since Jared discovered sub sandwiches.

Sen. Mike Fasano addressed the Kiwanis Club in Palm Harbor Tuesday morning. The "I voted'' stickers were absent and nobody mentioned Election Day until the end of the meeting when a woman reminded the audience, "Don't forget to vote.''

Amnesia, though, was rampant.

Fasano drove to his own voting site, precinct 78, at Heritage Lake Estates in west Pasco. Just before 9 a.m., he cast ballot number 37 of the day in a neighborhood with nearly 2,700 registered voters.

"It's ugly,'' Commissioner Mike Cox said an hour later, "and I'm not sure why.''

Cox, a Democrat, was not on the ballot this year, but served as commission representative to the Canvassing Board.

Commissioner Jack Mariano was on the ballot in a Republican primary. He planned to spend most of the day at Lexington Oaks golf course community in Wesley Chapel, the second largest precinct in Pasco County with 5,161 registered voters including 2,309 Republicans.

"It seemed like a good, friendly place to be,'' said Mariano of the neighborhood where he had reminded voters, via a flier, of the county's work to help fix a cracked road there.

How's the turnout?

"It's steady,'' said Mariano. "Steady, but it's not earth-shattering.''

His sunglasses must be rose-colored. Just after 9:30 a.m., only 38 people, including 27 Republicans, had voted there, according to unofficial turnout statistics on the Supervisor of Elections Web site. That is a pace of one voter every 4 minutes.

Turnout among Pasco voters in the August 2004 and September 2006 primary elections was below 21 percent. Just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, nearly seven hours after voting began, the turnout reached 7.7 percent or less than the typically dismal turnout in the municipal elections each April.

Put another way, less than five hours before the polls closed 260,000 eligible voters in Pasco people had not cast ballots. If freedom requires responsibility, as Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley proclaims, then we are an incredibly irresponsible community.

We suspect multiple reasons:

• The high cost of gasoline has changed people's transportation habits and the die-hards already voted via absentee ballot.

• The most visible race, County Commission District 1, was open only to Republicans thanks to the trickery of the John Nicolette campaign.

• A weak Democratic slate failed to excite the party faithful. Picking a Democratic candidate to oppose U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Spring Hill, was so unsatisfying that two newspapers declined make an endorsement. (The Times recommended John Russell of Dade City).

• Unlike past years, the political parties stayed out of the non-partisan races for school board and circuit judge, which lowered their visibility.

• People out of work or more worried about making their mortgage payment will come out in November, but aren't going to fret about local election primaries in August.

Still, the candidates tried. At the Land O' Lakes Recreation Center, the public had to navigate a gauntlet of sign-waving candidate supporters to reach the voting booths inside.

Pedestrians easily could have tripped over the snipe signs jutting from the soil. You couldn't go three feet without seeing a sign for Foote. That would be Kenneth, candidate for circuit court judge.

But, late in the morning, at the playground near the north end of the rec center parking lot, a handful of parents watched their romping toddlers and confessed no plans to cast ballots.

"Honestly?'' said Laura Damon, 33, of Wesley Chapel, "I didn't know there was an election today.''

Day could bring a record turnout for voter apathy 08/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 7:30pm]

    

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