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Election 2004

Returns look good for early voting plan

The chance to avoid long lines on Nov. 2 is proving popular with Pasco voters who are finding either no wait or very short ones. Polls are open today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY
Published October 23, 2004

PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Voter drives flood rolls
Protesters shadow Bush at fundraiser
Political imagery gets wild in TV ads
Clinton comeback, good for Kerry?

AT A GLANCE
Bush Kerry

POLITICS 2004
Lucy Morgan column: Vicious attack ads obscure vital issues in campaign home-stretch
Hillsborough: Lost votes should oust official, opponent says
Tampa Bay: Students complain of false party swap
State: Bradley, a third Senate candidate, for 'veterans and common man'
The nation: Ballot battles rise in the courts
Pasco: Returns look good for early voting plan
Citrus: Wooten says flier's fraud claim untrue

CAMPAIGN CALENDAR

TODAY: Hip Hop Summit Action Network Bus Tour 2 p.m., Tropicana Stadium Parking Lot, 1 Tropicana Drive. Headliners will include rap artists Akon and Styllion; ESPN sportscaster and former New York Jet Walter Briggs; Tampa Bay Bucs player Ellis Wyms; and Southern Style rappers Evening Riders, Ace Boon Koon, Black Jack Boys, Kream, and LK & Tom G. Shuttles will transport young voters to early voting locations until 5 p.m. Call 866-0873.

TUESDAY: Meg Ryan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 6 p.m. , Tampa Theater, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. A discussion on President Bush's environmental policies. Free. Call 595-7314.

WEDNESDAY: Parent Forum on the Pinellas County School Referendum Ballot Question 7 p.m., McMullen-Booth Elementary School, 3025 Union St., Clearwater. Call (813) 884-3782.

Ken White expects he'll be bombarded with political ads on television and in his mailbox in the last days of the election season.

He can ignore it all in good conscience.

He already voted.

The Dade City man was one of thousands of Pasco County residents who voted early this week.

After the first five days of early voting, some 8,099 Pasco residents have cast an early ballot. Add that to the 19,683 absentee ballots already turned in, that adds up to 27,782 Pasco voters who already have done their civic duty.

With 265,974 Pasco voters eligible to vote in the Nov. 2 election, that means voter turnout already is above 10 percent. And the election is still more than a week away.

"It's pretty remarkable," Pasco Elections Supervisor Kurt Browning said Friday. "People really want to vote in this election. We've had more requests for absentee ballots. We're having more early voting."

This is not the first time Florida has allowed voters to cast a ballot well in advance of Election Day, but clearly it is catching on in unprecedented ways. In 2002, the first time early voting was allowed, 10,478 Pasco voters cast early ballots. That record might be broken today. Certainly on Monday.

Pasco's elections offices will be open for early voting today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in New Port Richey, Land O'Lakes and in Dade City. The offices are closed Sunday.

On Friday afternoon, David Pullen of Zephyrhills strolled into the Government Center in Dade City, looked at the row of voting machines and declared to no one in particular, "This is the first place I've been to today where I didn't have to wait in line."

Throughout the week, there was a steady stream of early voters. Occasionally - during lunch or early in the day - there were busy spells where voters waited in a line of six to 10 people. But just as frequently, there was no waiting.

It's unclear what effect the early voting will have on overall turnout and on the outcome. It appears safe to say that Pasco is likely to exceed the 66 percent turnout in the 2000 presidential election.

Anecdotal evidence at the polling places says that several early voters have mentioned that they either never voted before or voted infrequently.

"I believe that some of the people who are voting early are people who might not have voted on Election Day, for one reason or another," said Pasco Tax Collector Mike Olson, who is the Pasco chairman for the Kerry campaign.

There's no telling how the early voters have cast ballots, but the breakdown by political party indicates the Republicans have a head start.

Of the 27,782 ballots already cast (including early votes and absentees), 13,441 are from Republicans and 10,164 are from Democrats. True, Republicans have an edge in terms of the overall number of registered voters in Pasco. But even after accounting for that, the GOP has a slight advantage in the overall percentage of turnout, at this very early stage.

It took David and Eleanor Pullen about 10 minutes to vote Friday afternoon in Dade City.

They did their homework on the candidates and the amendments, so they wouldn't have to weigh each issue while they voted. The ballot consists of 13 electronic pages, including eight amendments.

"It would take you two hours if you didn't look it over beforehand," Pullen said.

As they left the government center, Mrs. Pullen said, "Now, if we could only get a flu shot."

TO VOTE EARLY

If you're interested in voting early, today might be your best bet.

Pasco's elections offices will be open from 9 a.m. til 5 p.m. today. There are three locations. In Land O'Lakes, you can vote at the David Clark Professional Center at 4111 Land O'Lakes Blvd. The number is (813) 929-1288. In Dade City, you can vote at the East Pasco Government Center at 14236 Sixth St. The number is (352) 521-4302. And in New Port Richey, go to the West Pasco Government Center at 7530 Little Road. The number is (727) 847-8162.

Voters are asked to bring a driver's license or other photo identification.

[Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:13:23]


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