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Early voting opens today

By Staff | Jan 21, 2012

Saturday marks the start of early voting for the Republican presidential preference primary, set for Jan. 31.

Early voting runs Jan. 21 – 28 and is available at five locations throughout Lee County.

The contest will help the GOP decide who will represent them in this year’s presidential race, with Florida remaining a key state in that decision-making process, according to Gary Lee, Lee County Republican Party chair.

Lee said that Florida acts as a microcosm of the nation, another indicator for delegates to understand who Republicans want to take on President Barack Obama in November’s General Election.

Lee said, too, that despite historically low voter turnout for primary elections, the contest remains crucial.

“Primaries are so important to select the candidate or candidates … but I would be shocked if turnout was over 50 percent,” Lee added.

There are 364,000 active, registered voters in Lee County, 162,000 of which are registered Republicans.

Of course, the Republican primary is open only to those voters who claim the elephant as their political symbol, but a purely Republican primary doesn’t mean voters will turn out in droves, according to Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington.

Like Gary Lee, Harrington believes 40 to 50 percent of registered Republicans will head to the polls, which could mean that as many as 81,000 Republicans have no preference among Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.

“Fifty percent turnout is a real possibility, unless people are discouraged from all the negative campaigning,” Harrington added.

Two debates will be held in Florida during the week that early voting is taking place through most of the state; the first will be held in Tampa on Monday, Jan 23, at the University of South Florida; followed by a debate in Jacksonville on Thursday, Jan 26, at the University of North Florida.

Tampa also will be the site of the Republican National Convention in August where the eventual Republican champ and his vice presidential nominee will be presented to the public.

Lee doesn’t think that debates thus far have been very helpful to voters deciding who they should support. Instead of informational, they’ve consisted mainly of “gotcha” moments as the candidates do little more than try to trip one another up.

Educating themselves will fall to the voter, he said, who should rely on more than sound bites and quips to make their decisions.

“It’s incumbent on the voter to be as educated as he or she can be,” Lee said.

Part of that education process is not only about the candidates themselves, but the opportunities, rules and regulations surrounding the voting process.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, a Tallahassee based, statewide non-profit, are offering certain tips to help voters make sure their voices are heard.

According to LWVF President Deirdre Macnab, “up front” work done by voters will help prior to hitting the polls, especially with the passing of a new law that prohibits voters from making address changes at the polls, which would force them to cast provisional ballots.

“We want voters to be problem free come election day,” she said. “And we want everyone to cast a regular ballot on election day.”

Making sure your information is up to date with the Supervisor of Elections is vital, Macnab said, in order to make sure your vote is counted. That includes making sure you know the rules surrounding mail-in or absentee ballots.

“The goal is to make sure every Floridian finds their voice and casts their vote,” Macnab said of their efforts.

Harrington said absentee ballots can be received up to the day of the election and are available by local mail until Jan 25.

Those five early voting locations are available on supervisor of elections website and the Cape Coral location is located near city hall, behind the Lee County Government location.

Early voting is available 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. at 1031 SE 9th Place. They can be reached at 533-7031.

Early voting is Jan 21 – 28. The primary election is Tuesday, Jan 31.

For more information visit leeelections.com.