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Elections supervisor Brian Corley says his first countywide election went off with barely a hitch.
Published Feb. 4, 2008

Even before polling stations opened Tuesday, the numbers had done a lot of the talking.

And the numbers said two words: big day.

Take early votes alone. In Pasco, there were 15,460 votes, twice the number of the 2006 primaries, and one that nearly matched the level of the 2006 general election.

With a half-hour to go before polls closed, the total voter turnout, at nearly 30 percent, had already eclipsed the 2004 presidential primary, which had been buoyed by the high-profile Penny for Pasco referendum.

At the Elections Service Center in Dade City, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley was at the helm of his first countywide election, presiding over 35 people manning 20 phone banks. In the field, he had more than 1,000 volunteers in 153 precincts.

That's fewer than the 1,700 workers in 2006, mostly because Corley now has 330 new voter identification machines to cut down the work.

For most of Tuesday, Corley had little reason to worry.

Voting problems appeared scarce in Pasco, and most voters said there were no long lines.

"It was peaceful and it was quiet," said Leah Grosz, of Dade City. "It's my first time doing regular voting. Before, I used to do early voting. This time, I was waiting to make up my mind."

She's talking about the presidential primary.

So who was her pick?

Grosz didn't want to say.

Sam Bala, also of Dade City, wasn't so shy.

"McCain," he said, referring to Republican presidential candidate John McCain. "To me, he's a hero."

Which is saying something, because Bala's brother is the president of the Mormon church in the Philippines. Bala didn't side with Mitt Romney - a Mormon - despite his brother's religion. This could be because Bala is a Methodist.

At Meadow Pointe in Wesley Chapel, Joann Craft was up for Barack Obama. "I know he's young," she said, "but that's OK."

Anita Jarvis, in Dade City, voted for Hillary Clinton. "I just think it's time for a woman," she said.

Not that the Democratic votes counted. The primary results won't matter on the national level for Democrats, a punishment for Florida moving up its primary date.

It wasn't just candidates on the ballot. Florida's homestead exemption increase, called Amendment 1, was also going to the vote.

In Wesley Chapel, Linda Bates voted for Amendment 1. "We need some help, and I know it's going to hurt other governments, but the taxes and insurance are killing us," she said.

It was a day with the kind of weather that reminds people why they moved to Florida. And the kind of day when people didn't mind doing something they don't do so often.

Michael Hodges swapped his duties at Hodges Funeral Home for a green cap that said "Election Deputy."

He was quick to tell a reporter that he has no powers to arrest anyone. He was also precise with details.

"At 6:57 a.m., there were three people standing outside," Hodges said.

Afterward, it became a steady trickle of voters - seemingly all over Pasco.

At 8 a.m. at Westminster Church in New Port Richey, there were just three voters.

At 9 a.m. in Beacon Woods, a reporter described "a steady flow of people," but found it more memorable when he overheard a poll worker telling another, "I'm so bored.''

At 10 a.m., Corley's phone had stopped ringing.

Before the polls opened, a wave of phone calls came in to him, as his small army was setting up shop across the county.

"It was like a storm blowing through," he said. "I've never done bungee jumping, but I imagine that's what it felt like."

Mostly, though, the calls weren't serious problems.Precincts calling in to report that they were up and running. Poll workers asking for assistance with voting machines. A woman called from the hospital to ask if she could send an absentee ballot.

Three voters called the St. Petersburg Times to say their party affiliations were printed incorrectly on their ballots.

One later reported that the records were right and he was wrong. Another - who said she was a lifelong Democrat but was shown as Republican - asked not to be identified. Corley said his records showed her registered as a Republican since 2002 and had voted in two primaries as a Republican.

The third, Virginia Stevans, said she's been a registered Republican for 21 years, but was told by a poll worker that she was registered as a Democrat. Stevans insisted she never changed her affiliation, but Corley said records show she went from no party to Democrat in 2004 and denied Stevans a provisional Republican ballot.

"I tell people to constantly check and make sure they have the right party affiliation," Corley said.

He called Tuesday "organized mayhem."

He took over last year from Kurt Browning, the popular and successful county elections chief who went on to become Florida's secretary of state. Corley said Browning ran "an impeccable ship," an accolade that was all the more meaningful since Corley had only run one election before Tuesday - and that was the municipal election last year.

The stakes were a little higher this time.

"It's like the kiddie pool versus the Olympic pool," Corley said.

Good thing he had that impeccable ship. Corley pointed out two of his staff, Kristie Crump and Shirley Laughery. "Other people in the state ask them for advice," he said.

It might get tougher in April and the fall, when Pasco switches from the touch screen voting system to paper ballots read by an optical system.

"In 2006, it took them seven hours to count 19,000 ballots," Corley said.

His phone went off again.

It was Gary Holland, an attorney in Browning's office. Just wanted to know if everything is OK. Corley reported it was all clear.

Fifteen minutes before polls closed at 7 p.m., cars were still pulling into the parking lot at Myrtle Lake Baptist Church in Land O'Lakes.

About 15 people were in the building. It was still a trickle, but a slightly larger one.

Just one peeve.

"I just hope the Democratic primary votes would have counted," said Sherry Randall, of Lutz. "I mean, we're a big state. Just seems they want our money but not have our votes count."

Staff members Lisa Buie, Jamal Thalji, Bill Stevens, Michele Miller and Lucille Lazich contributed to this story. Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at or (813)909-4613.