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    Early voters run into rush they hoped to avoid

    In Clearwater, a sheriff's deputy maintained order within the long lines. In Largo, candy did the trick.

    By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 3, 2002

    LARGO -- Voters who hoped casting ballots early would save them from long Election Day lines weren't alone Saturday. Hundreds of other voters thought the same thing.

    Some voters said they waited as long as 90 minutes to cast ballots Saturday, while others cruised through the line in 20 minutes.

    At the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater, a handful of voters became so irate that the office manager posted a deputy at the door. Meanwhile, voters at the Election Service Center in Largo were treated to leftover Halloween candy.

    Nothing like a Tootsie Pop and some Sweetarts to pacify anxious voters.

    "They've been giving out candy, and they told us to take this time to figure out how we want to vote," said Beth Bell of Pinellas Park, who voted Saturday in Largo.

    As newcomers walked through the door of the Election Service Center and got a look at the long line, Bell shouted at them, "It's not as bad as it looks."

    The scene was different for a few minutes in Clearwater, where elections employees accidentally began calling voters from the back of the line instead of the front.

    Beverly Clarke of Dunedin said election officials were unprepared for the large numbers of voters who turned out for early voting Saturday.

    "People are hollering, complaining. They're mad; they're upset," Clarke said. "They want to vote so badly, but (the election officials) are disorganized."

    Susan Phillips, office manager for the Clearwater elections office, described the situation differently. She said the employees made an honest mistake that was quickly remedied and did not affect the integrity of the voting process. Clarke, she said, was one of two people in line who overreacted.

    Clarke said about a half-dozen people were angry about the situation, but Phillips said other people in line calmed Clarke down.

    "That lady was trying to turn it into a mob scene, but the mob wasn't cooperating," Phillips said.

    Her office was supposed to close at 5 p.m., but Phillips said they would continue to accept voters until they stopped showing up.

    "Anybody who wants in is going to be allowed to vote," she said. "We can't possibly lock the door."

    At a glance

    Election offices are closed today, but early voting will resume from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the following locations: the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Room 117, Clearwater; the Election Service Center, 14255 49th St. N, Suite 202, Largo; and the County Building, 501 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

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