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Long day at the polls a break for late voters

The supervisor of elections says polling places opened on time, reported no problems and got fast results.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

INVERNESS -- Bill Squire thought he was out of luck.

The Inverness resident takes medication that renders him unable to drive. With no ride to the polls Tuesday evening, Squire thought his chances to vote were shot.

But then Gov. Jeb Bush declared overtime. That gave Squire, a 46-year-old former Marine, time enough to find his way to his polling place: the Citrus County Auditorium.

"Actually, this worked in my favor," he said.

Bush wasn't worried so much about people like Squire on Tuesday. He kept polling places open two extra hours, until 9 p.m., because of widespread reports of polling place disasters in South Florida.

There were trouble spots statewide, but Miami-Dade and Broward counties seemed to have it worst, with polling places opening late, voting machines failing and some voters being turned away.

Like the 2000 election, this one was filled with controversy. And like the 2000 election, everything went relatively smoothly in Citrus County.

Citrus polling places opened on time and reported no problems. The two extra hours might have helped people who couldn't get to the polls by 7 p.m. But the bonus time wasn't needed to correct any problems, Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill said.

About 30 percent of Citrus' more than 83,000 voters cast ballots on Tuesday, exceeding Gill's expectations. Gill didn't know how many of those voters visited polls between 7 and 9 p.m., but she didn't think the number was very high.

The late poll closing didn't throw Gill's staff off stride: Final results were in about 9:52 p.m., one of the best performances of any county in the state.

Word of the overtime session arrived about 4 p.m. at the Citrus County Auditorium, where voters in Precinct 405 (South Inverness) cast their ballots. Voters found out through the media (Squire heard the bulletin on TV) or by word of mouth.

The news didn't exactly elicit a cheer from poll workers, who had been on the job since 6 a.m.

"It's a long day," said Rosemarie Herringshaw, assistant clerk.

But "everybody stayed," clerk Bob Fletcher said.

Gill said poll clerks had discretion to let workers return home if necessary.

"Our poll workers were very cooperative," she said.

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