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Precinct changes could confuse

Those who vote on Election Day must do so at their assigned polling place. The county has changed its voting locations significantly.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002


INVERNESS -- Citrus County's voting system is flexible in some ways.

For example, anyone, for any reason, can vote by absentee ballot. A voter can request a ballot, complete it at home and return it to the elections office. Or the voter could just visit the elections office and vote there.

Another example: The optical scan machine that registers votes will reject an improperly marked ballot, giving the voter a chance to correct any problems.

But there is one way the voting system is not flexible: Voters who vote on Election Day must do so at the polling place they have been assigned.

That provision, part of state law, might not be a big deal in some counties. But Citrus has significantly changed its polling places since the 2000 election, so there's a good chance the place voters cast their 2000 ballots isn't the place they should go Sept. 10 to vote in the primary election.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill has spread the word as best she can during speaking engagements and presentations. Her biggest effort was to mail new voter registration cards to the 83,000-plus registered voters.

Those cards list the voter's precinct number and polling place. Gill urges voters to pay attention.

"The main thing is (for voters) to check their voter registration cards," she said.

Why the change? There are a few reasons.

Because of population growth and redistricting, Gill has created six new precincts. They are in Citrus Springs, Pine Ridge, Citrus Hills and Sugarmill Woods, Red Level and west Homosassa Springs.

People in those new precincts obviously will have a new polling place Sept. 10.

Beyond that, for one reason or another, three existing precincts (Citronelle, Dunnellon and East Crystal River) have new polling places this year.

If a voter visits the wrong polling place, the poll workers will call Gill's office and find the correct polling place for the voter, who is then directed there to vote.

What if someone shows up at the wrong polling place five minutes before the polls close and doesn't have time to get to the correct place? The voter would be out of luck.

"It's the voter's responsibility to check the precinct," Gill said.

When Gill mailed the cards, she specifically noted "return service requested." The postal service returned whatever couldn't be directly delivered.

Of the 83,000 or so new cards mailed, Gill received about 10,000 back.

Of those, about one-third couldn't be delivered because the mailing address had changed. Gill's staff noted the new address that the postal system provided in its records and mailed the cards again.

"We've had good luck with that remailing," she said.

Another third of the returned cards were sent back because people wanted their mail forwarded. Many in that category are seasonal residents, Gill said. Her staff remailed the cards to the forwarding address.

The final batch of returned cards came back because their forwarding address had expired, or for some other reason. Gill said her staff didn't resend those cards.

For all the emphasis on voter registration cards, one point should be made: Voters are not required to present their cards when they arrive at the polling place. All they need to do is show a valid photo ID or sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.

The purpose of mailing the cards is the same as the purpose for mailing sample ballots, Gill said: "This is for the voter."

A few other election notes:

Not sure where you should vote Sept. 10? Call Gill's office at 341-6740 or check the Internet at http://www.elections.citrus.fl.us. Click on "precinct and voting info" button on the left side of the page and then click on "precinct finder."

The main elections office in Inverness (120 N Apopka Ave. next to the new courthouse) and the satellite office in Crystal River (801 SE U.S. 19, in the county government center) will be open Labor Day and Saturday.

Gill and her staff have trained more than 500 poll workers. This year, the training included a presentation from the Center for Independent Living. That presentation concerned accommodating disabled voters.

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