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Early voting for primary begins today

By Staff | Sep 5, 2009

Early voting for the Sept. 15 Cape Coral city council primary begins today.
The Lee County Elections Main Office at 2480 Thompson St. in Fort Myers and the Cape Coral Branch Office at 1031 S.E. 9th Place, Suite 3, will open their doors at 9 a.m. for the first of six “early voting” days earmarked to let Cape Coral voters cast a ballot ahead of election day.
While there are four seats up for grabs this year — the mayor’s and Council Districts 1, 4 and 6 — only the mayoral and District 6 races appear on the primary ballot because only these two have more than two candidates seeking office. Registered voters can cast a ballot in each race; Cape municipal elections are non-partisan and citywide, meaning all voters living in Cape Coral can vote regardless of party affiliation or the district in which they live.
Given the issues the city is facing, this is a key election year, said Councilmember Tim Day, who has represented District 6 for nearly nine years. Day is not seeking re-election due to term limits.
“I’ve lived in the city for 12 years and in my 12 years, this is the most important election I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “There are more challenges that this new council will have to face in the upcoming two years than we probably had to deal with in the last 10.”
The mayor’s race offers five candidates, the incumbent, James Burch, and challengers Roger Butler, Stephen Lovejoy, Robert Pizzolongo and John Sullivan. Vying in District 6 are Frank Antos Jr., John Cataldi Jr. and Kevin McGrail.
Early voting for the primary will continue Tuesday through Saturday, Sept. 12. (No early voting on Labor Day.) The offices will be open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
On election day, Sept. 15, polls throughout the city will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In previous elections, the city sponsored two weeks of early voting.
Due to cost — about $6,000 per week — and low turnout, the city scaled back this year. By working around the holiday, the city does pick up two weekend days for the primary, which is good, according to Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington.
“Saturdays tend to be good because people work,” Harrington said.
The top two vote getters in each primary race will advance to the General Election in November when the District 1 and 4 races will be added to the ballot.
Running in District 1 is Jim Martin and Kenneth “Marty” McClain. Running in District 4 is Chris Chulakes-Leetz and Dolores Bertolini, the incumbent.
The General Election is Nov. 3 with early voting to be held Monday, Oct. 26 though Saturday, Oct. 31.
Voters who want to cast a ballot can skip visiting the polls entirely — it’s not too late to obtain an absentee ballot for either the primary or general election. Voters can request an absentee ballot up until the Wednesday before election day by calling the Elections Office.
“Locally, that’s up until Sept. 9 by 5 p.m. to get an absentee ballot for the primary,” Harrington said, adding voters who are out of town need to allow more time to assure postal delivery. “That gives us enough time to get it out.”
Requests for absentee ballots this year has been slow for both the Cape, and the city of Fort Myers, which is holding its municipal elections at the same time.
As of Tuesday, 3,200 voters from Cape Coral and the city of Fort Myers had requested absentee ballots. Fort Myers had 840 requests and 205 had been returned. In the Cape, 2,400 people had sought absentee ballots and 257 had been returned.
These numbers are low, Harrington said, adding absentee ballot requests can be reflective of how many voters will go to the polls.
“It’s relatively low,” she said. “We’re somewhat surprised with both cities; very slow. I get kind of nervous when I see stuff like that — it’s kind of indicative of what the turnout is going to be.”
There are 94,097 registered voters in Cape Coral; 27,823 in Fort Myers.
Harrington said she had no prediction for the final turnout for the two-race primary.
“No prediction,” she said. “I’m just hoping the numbers go up.”
There is one nuance to the numbers this year — a change in the law allows voters to request absentee ballots for all elections up to four years prior. This means that some of those mailed ballots requested in conjunction with the last national election received ballots for this city election. What that means in terms of returns is not yet known, Harrington said.
With the ease of voting, Day urges voters to cast a ballot in each election and he issued a special plea that voters become informed about the candidates.
“I pray people will come out to the polls and vote, and I pray they will know who they are voting for because there are people running for election, for a seat, that have no understanding of city government, have no comprehension of what the city has done and has to face, and they’re (those elected) going to have the ability to affect people’s lives,” Day said.
“I certainly urge them to come out,” he said of the voters.
Councilmember Bill Diele, who represents District 3, said this election is one of opportunity for the residents.
“I think we’re at a turning point at being able to change the direction the city is heading,” he said. “We have an opportunity to be more concerned with what the people want, to cut spending and husband our resources.”
Diele also urged turnout when asked if it was important to vote.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The more people who vote the better.”