Early voting wraps up today; election Tuesday
Today is the last day to cast a ballot via Early Voting.
Five polling sites will be open from to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for those who would like to cast a ballot in advance of Tuesday’s crowded ballot.
Be forewarned, however: Long lines may to be to blame for a possible decline in early voting numbers.
Some have seen waits of two hours or more and have had trouble finding parking, especially in downtown Fort Myers.
Subsequently, it has sent the early voting numbers down from what they were four years ago, officials said.
It has also shown the popularity of early voting, although Sharon Harrington concedes the convenience has left something to be desired for some.
“This is early voting, not fast voting,” Harrington said. “It’s been popular, but we’re restricted to where we can have them. Thank you, Florida legislature.”
Harrington said the early voting places are restricted to main election offices, branch offices open for at least a year, city halls or public libraries.
It is also restricted to eight days, from Saturday Oct. 27, to today at 7 p.m., which Harrington said has meant chaos at her offices, without any outside-the-box thinking.
“The disruption on normal business is phenomenal. City hall doesn’t want this nonsense,” Harrington said. “If it were my choice, there would be no early voting in my building. I’d go to Harborside.”
It used to be worse, however, before Lehigh got its own voting location at the East County Regional Library.
“We found out that half the people we served were from Lehigh. So take this crowd and double it, that’s what we had,” Harrington said.
As for numbers, as of Friday, 43,595 submitted early ballots, compared to 64,400 in 2008. Those numbers are expected to climb with Saturday still to come.
Harrington said the media coverage of the long lines may have kept voters away who, instead, will cast their ballots at one of the 125 Lee County precincts on Tuesday.
However, mail-in ballots are at an all-time high. Harrington said that as of Wednesday at 5 p.m., the deadline for mail-in requests, 102,723 ballots have been mailed out, with 77,856 returned as of Friday.
Harrington said she’s open to solutions on how to alleviate long lines in the future, such as what Collier County is doing by listing the wait times at each voting office online.
“We don’t have a lot of money for that. We have enough people working overtime,” Harrington said. “Maybe we could get a high school kid or a college intern to do it for nothing.”
Harrington also tells voters with special needs that they can be put to the front of the line, if need be, so they won’t have to wait hours to vote.
“Poll workers have passes to allow people in special need situations to move ahead for processing,” Harrington said. “You just have to tell someone.”
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are battling for president, with countless independent, write-in and minor party candidates in the mix.
Another national race that could affect the balance of power in Congress, incumbent Bill Nelson, a Democrat, will face local U.S. Rep. Connie Mack. That race also features seven write-in and unaffiliated candidates, though none are local.
Mack’s seat in the 19th Congressional District will be filled by Republican Trey Radel, Democrat Jim Roach or no party affiliation candidate Brandon Smith of Naples also is on the ballot.
In the 17th District, GOP candidate Tom Rooney will battle Democrat William Bronson and write-in candidate Tom Baumann.
For state office, in the 77th District, which encompasses Cape Coral, Republican Dane Eagle faces Democrat Arvella M. Clare.
In Rep. District 78, Republican Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen and write-in candidate Kerry Babb are the choices.
In Senate District 30, Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto faces Democrat Debbie Jordan.
Four of the five county commissioner seats are up for grabs. In District 1, Cape Coral Republican John Manning faces write-in Gerard David Jr.
District 2 has GOP candidate Cecil Pendergrass going against write-in Neal Moore and unaffiliated John W. Sawyer. District 3 will see Republican Larry Kiker battle unaffiliated Charlie Whitehead. In District 5, GOP incumbent Frank Mann faces Matt Miller, the Independent Party of Florida candidate.
Commission races are countywide, meaning all voters can cast a ballot regardless of the district in which they live.
For Lee County Tax Collector, GOP incumbent Larry Hart faces unaffiliated James Chandler.
In the fight for the non-partisan District 2 school board seat, incumbent Jeanne Dozier battles Bob Chilmonik.
School board races also are countywide, meaning all voters can cast a ballot regardless of the district in which they live.
For the Lee County Sheriff’s post, incumbent Republican Mike Scott has been challenged by write-in candidate Christian Meister and unaffiliated Lee Bushong.
Also at stake are three seats on the Lee Memorial Health System Board of Directors in districts 1, 3 and 5.
Early voting centers
* Lee County Elections Main Office
2480 Thompson St., 3rd Floor
Fort Myers, FL 33901
* Lee County Election
Center Branch Office
(Across from Bell Tower Shops)
13180 S. Cleveland Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33907
Telephone (239) 533-6918
* Cape Coral Branch Office
1031 SE 9th Place No. 3
* Bonita Springs Branch Office
24951 Old U.S. 41, Suite 10
* East County Regional Library
881 Gunnery Road
Things to Remember When Heading to the Polls:
Voters MUST present a PHOTO/SIGNATURE ID at early voting sites or at the polls on election day.
Acceptable forms of ID are:
* Valid Florida Driver’s License
* Florida ID card
* U.S. Passport
* Debit/Credit card with photo/signature
* Military ID
* Student ID
To avoid delays while voting, be sure to have updated your voter registration information prior to voting early or at your precinct on election day. Officials also say bringing a filled-in sample ballot will help you navigate the crowded ballot more quickly