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Early voting begins Monday

By Staff | Oct 24, 2013

The candidates for mayor, as well as in Districts 1, 4 and 6 are heading for the home stretch as the countdown to Election Day on Nov. 5 rolls on.

Early voting begins Monday and continues through the week.

That means if you can’t make it to your respective precinct on Election Day, you will have plenty of opportunities to either vote early or submit your ballot by mail.

Participation at the polls has been low, both for the primary on Sept. 10 and the last municipal election.

The primary on Sept. 10 brought out fewer than 8 percent of registered voters, even lower than the 2011 primary, when about 11.5 percent took part.

The 2011 general election drew around 15 percent of registered voters.

That’s unacceptable to Sharon Harrington, supervisor of Lee County Elections, who said that local government is the first line of folks who can help with your problems.

“Municipal elections are important. It disturbs me because there are a lot of issues going on in the Cape and people are always complaining, yet they don’t go out and vote,” Harrington said. “We can’t make it easier for them. We can mail them, they can come early, I don’t know.”

Harrington said one solution to the problem would be for the state legislature to change the law for all-mail elections.

“If the city did all mail, you may have a bigger turnout. They would get a ballot whether they want one or not,” Harrington said. “No excuses. They could open it, fill it out and mail it back.”

Harrington also plans to institute drop boxes down the road.

As of Monday, 3,399 mail ballots have been requested, with 1,119 returned, Harrington said, adding that for municipal elections about half are returned, as opposed to 90 percent for presidential elections.

Candidates are hoping residents break the recent trend and turn out. They have few answers as to why the Cape hasn’t seen a better turnout.

“It’s hard to get people engaged if they don’t want to be. It’s a shame because the number of people who gave their lives in order to give us the opportunity only to be wasted,” Mayor John Sullivan said, adding that perhaps a shift to a larger election cycle (on even numbered years, when elections used to be held on) would help.

“Eight percent is embarrassing and it’s too bad. There’s so much apathy, yet everyone has a problem with the city and they don’t care,” District 6 challenger Rick Williams said. “There’s so much talk, I hope it means a better turnout.”

“My signs posted around the city ask people to please vote. As a veteran, we should show respect all the military by utilizing the right to the democratic process,” District 4 incumbent Chris Chulakes-Leetz said. “If I had an answer) to why so few vote) I’d be making millions as a consultant instead of $17,000 as a councilman.”

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people uninformed. They are not aware of where our money is going,” said David Headd, one of two candidates vying for the seat Marty McClain is vacating in District 1. “They may come if we have a financial crisis, but by then it’s too late. You see the same people at the forums.”

Harrington said getting people to vote ultimately falls in the hands of the candidates.

“They have to get people more excited. That’s not part of my job description. We try to make it as available as possible,” Harrington said. “Knocking on doors reminds them they’re there and they need to get off the couch.”

District 4 candidate Richard Leon said he has stepped up his campaign by going to homes every day, meeting people and going to businesses.

“My goal is to create a relationship with the people over time and that will get more people to come out,” Leon said. “I’m just trying to relate to people and they can tell me what we need to move the city forward.”

That also goes for mayoral candidate Marni Sawicki and District 6 incumbent Kevin McGrail.

“We are calling, we are chasing ballots and getting ready to do sign waving, preparing for debates, making sure everyone is getting that vote out,” Sawicki said. “We are tapping into every resource. We have people who don’t even know there’s an election. We need help from the media.”

“You see my signs all over the city that I put there with my grandson, so we’re doing our best to make people aware an election is coming,” McGrail said. “The most important elected officials are at the local level. We pave the roads and bring the sewers in and yet 80 percent vote for president.”

District 1 candidate Jim Burch has been running on austerity, but plans to ratchet things up as Nov. 5 approaches.

“We’re doing the things we need to do to get through the election. We’re going to put some signs out,” Burch said. “We like our message and will continue to get it out and will continue to knock on doors.”

Early voting will be held from Monday, Oct. 28, until Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Lee County Elections Main Office at 2480 Thompson St., 3rd Floor in Fort Myers, and at the Cape Coral Branch Office at 1031 SE 9th Place, No. 3.

Voting hours will be Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Citizens can vote for any candidate in any district. The elections are non-partisan.

Mail ballots can be requested by contacting the office of the Lee County Supervisor of Elections by phone (533-6919), fax (533-6913) or through the Web at: www.leeelections.com.

For more information, please call the City Clerk’s office at 574-0417.