"Vote election day. No waiting."
It could be the new motto to replace "Freedom requires responsibility'' at the Pasco supervisor of elections office. With Mother Nature drowning the county in a mostly daylong deluge, election day turnout teetered between disgust, apathy and the comfort of dry clothes.
The Land O'Lakes Recreation Center identified me as voter No. 36 on the machines' tally. This was 45 minutes after the doors had opened. That's a pace of less than one a minute, or less than 720 votes by the end of the 12-hour day.
I spent several minutes chatting with voter 37 as we waited for the rain to let up after casting our ballots. Only one other person entered while we stood in the lobby. Outside the gymnasium, sign-holders stood beneath umbrellas, alone in the parking lot. The drive-through line at Starbucks had a bigger crowd.
"This is why people should vote at home,'' said Alison Morano, chair of the Pasco Democratic Executive Committee. ''This is the reason you vote by mail.''
Indeed. However, it should be noted, that by midday turnout among Democrats was less than 12 percent, while Republican turnout across the county was nearly 21 percent.
Voting early also doesn't stop the automated phone calls or the direct mail literature or the saturation of television and radio advertising. Maybe we all needed the election day shower after weeks of mud tossing.
Tuesday also brought a new burst of roadside signs as candidates removed their placards from the early-voting locations and replaced them in what they hoped would be strategic spots. At Interstate 75 and State Road 56, signs for attorney general candidate Jeff Kottcamp and state Senate hopeful Jim Norman shared the right of way with other advertisements asking, "Bad credit?''
Apparently, credit ratings are of no consequence to Norman, whose campaign was dogged by the revelation he failed to disclose his wife's ownership of a lakefront vacation home in Arkansas. Or that she paid cash for it.
If there was far-flung voter discontent, it was hard to measure in the rain. People said they voted because they had the day off, because it is their civic duty or because they are political junkies.
"I've been doing this for a long time,'' said Republican activist Sandra Graves of Land O'Lakes as she held a Kevin Ambler for state Senate sign. "People are definitely angry at Washington, but people are always angry.''
The Cetrangolo family — father, David, 53; his wife, Jane, 53; son, Tony, 24; and daughter, Lisa, 21 — all converged at the Land O'Lakes Community Center during lunch hour to cast ballots. All Republicans, they said they voted for Rick Scott for governor.
"He's a businessman, and he's new,'' said David. "We need someone fresh.''
Teresa Ankrom, 44, who voted a few minutes later, had a different point of view. She voted for Bill McCollum to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee.
"At least I know what I'm getting,'' she said.
Nearby stood Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri, doing what candidates do on election day. She waved a campaign sign, acknowledged the horn honks from motorists and talked on the cell phone.
By 2:30 p.m., 19,150 ballots had been cast at the polls, still less than the more than 20,000 who voted absentee or via early voting. It equated to an overall turnout of roughly 13 percent. Pitiful.
So who benefits politically? A poor election day turnout means most of the late negative advertising missed its audience. The last-minute robo calls and mail pieces didn't bring people to the polls, and in fact, may have turned off voters.
"The negativity at the top of the ballot, I'm sure, had something to do with the turnout,'' said state Rep. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel who hop-scotched among precincts in Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and Dade City.
Legislative hopeful Richard Corcoran spent the morning greeting voters — what few there were — at Heritage Lake Estates, a heavily Republican precinct in west Pasco. Did the rain help his Republican primary campaign for House District 45 against Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey and Dunedin businessman Fabian Calvo?
''I'm an optimist,'' said Corcoran, "but keep in mind, I have the Bucs going to the playoffs, too.''