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  1. Opinion

Henderson: No 'I Voted' sticker, but early voting has its pluses

Some folks long for a simpler time in America, when Election Day meant going to the polls and standing in line. They savor entering the sanctity of the voting booth and executing their civic responsibility in seclusion and with sober thought.

I have done it that way.

It was okay.

The "I Voted" sticker is pretty cool to wear around the office, too, along with the selfie from the polling place to post on Facebook.

But then Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer started providing other ways to reach the same end, and one in particular seemed to make more sense to me. It is a method that takes potential last-minute headaches out of the process. Do this, and neither thunderstorm, flat tire, nor a bad case of the sniffles keeps a person from the appointed round at the ballot box.

It is called voting by mail. Ballot-by-mail is a great invention and more people should take advantage.

With that in mind, my ballot for the Aug. 30 primary arrived in the mailbox the other day.

That can draw a condescending tsk-tsk from traditionalists. I've had friends who shake their head and say voting at home somehow makes the process less than special.

As long as you vote, I don't see how the location makes any difference.

Since I am registered as "no party affiliation," I could only vote in one school board race and three involving county judges. No matter. Voting is a responsibility of citizenship.

Besides, being at home allows me to study my ballot thoughtfully before I mark the circle beside the chosen candidate's name — black ink only please. If I come across a candidate or issue that requires some last-minute thought, I can always fire up a Google search for additional information.

I am not alone.

More than 50,000 mail-in ballots have already been cast in Hillsborough for the Aug. 30 primary.

Many others who embrace the idea of visiting a polling place are taking advantage of early-voting hours at 16 sites throughout the county. In the first two days of early voting last week, nearly 4,000 people cast ballots. You can track that number on the website votehillsborough.org. Thousands of ballots arrive daily to the election office.

Look at it another way.

By the time Aug. 30 arrives, there likely will be 80,000 or more voters who won't have to go to the polls. There will be that many more spaces available. The lines will be shorter. The process will be quicker. No need to thank me or the others who voted early.

This continues a trend that is not changing. In the 2014 primary, the county set a record with more than 78,000 early voters from a total of about 126,000 overall. About 59,000 of those used the U.S. mail. This year will likely top that.

Florida doesn't have the best record when it comes to elections. Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans were roundly criticized in 2012 for reducing the number of early voting days and polling places. It was seen as a blatant attempt to disenfranchise African-American voters, whose early ballots in 2008 helped propel Barack Obama to a big lead in the state.

Of course, they also will be teaching college courses for decades over Florida's infamous "hanging chads" in 2000 that sent George W. Bush to the White House.

We seem to be moving in a better direction now. Modern life is stressed enough without erecting unnecessary barriers to one of the basic rights of citizenship.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to do that.

So go the polls early, go on Election Day, or go to your mailbox.

Go with whatever works.

Contact Joe Henderson at joehtampa@gmail.com. Follow @JHendersonTampa

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