Precincts experience only minor problems

Most agree that voting was fairly trouble free across Hernando County, with just a few complaints during what was expected to be a strong turnout.

Published November 3, 2004

Long morning lines, a jammed ballot scanner and poor voting options for the blind were among the worst of the problems that appeared during the general election Tuesday in Hernando County.

When compared to problems in more populated counties, voting in Hernando went pretty smoothly, poll workers and voters said.

"It was real smooth, real nice," said Virgil Elder, 86, who was relieved about not having to wait to vote at the Heather Community Center in the late morning. "I was worried about the line, but everything went along as smooth as silk."

In general, traffic at most polling places was steady, Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams said.

While numbers weren't immediately available, Williams said she expected a strong turnout. Already going into Tuesday, one out of four registered voters in Hernando County had voted by either casting absentee ballots or visiting the government centers during early voting.

Voters who arrived at polling places before the 7 a.m. opening faced the longest lines. Early risers started gathering outside some precincts, such as both Timber Pines polling places and Spring Lake United Methodist Church, a little after 6 a.m. Once polls opened, the lines moved fairly quickly, poll workers said.

The line of voters at Spring Lake United Methodist Church stretched all the way across the parking lot a half-hour before the polls opened, said Marcia Hood, the precinct clerk.

"By 7 o'clock, the people had reconfigured the line and it was snaked all over the parking lot," Hood said.

Four hours later, 519 people had voted in her district, about as many as had voted in total during the primary election, Hood said.

Other precincts in Brooksville also reported high early turnouts.

"They were out here at 6:05 this morning when we drove up. I couldn't believe it," said Shirley Pecoraro, clerk of Precinct 10, at the Wesleyan Church just east of Brooksville.

Pecoraro, like Hood, said she hadn't dealt with any major problems.

"We've had a very, very nice day. Very steady. Everybody has been very well mannered," Pecoraro said.

A paper ballot was jammed inside an optical scan ballot machine at Grace Presbyterian Church in Spring Hill on Tuesday morning, halting the scanning of votes for about an hour.

Poll workers ordered voters to stick their ballots into a special emergency bin on the side of the machine, which irked several suspicious Spring Hill voters.

"I'm supposed to believe they're going to count those votes?" said Spring Hill voter Sue Farber, whose ballot was placed in a bin. "I'm sorry, I don't trust them."

Williams said the problem was fixed within an hour and all ballots were slid into the repaired optical scan machine and counted.

"That's what those emergency bins are for," Williams said. "When you have ballot jams or if the power goes off, you never stop the voting."

Other problems tended to be minor and predictable. A few people complained of being turned away at the polls, because they hadn't registered to vote by the Oct. 4 deadline. A few complained that they hadn't received adequate notice that their polling location had changed during the past year.

Several voters said they were concerned about the pencils they used to sign in. But poll workers insisted that the writing instruments only resemble traditional pencils; the marks they make are permanent and cannot be erased.

Legally blind voter David Bearden said his rights were violated, because Hernando County doesn't offer technology for visually impaired voters to cast their votes in secrecy. He had to say his choices aloud in a small room - in front of potential eavesdroppers - so that poll workers could fill in his optical scan ballot.

"I still can't say for sure, the people I wanted to vote for even got my vote, but everyone in that room knows who I wanted to vote for," said Bearden, 47, who voted at Hillside Community Church, east of Brooksville.

By close to 6 p.m., no partisan poll watcher had challenged a vote, Williams said. Throughout the day, many of the poll watchers had left their posts, taking breaks to return later in the evening.

"We've had none that I know of," Williams said, "and I'm so happy about that."

Times staff writers Dan DeWitt and Mary Spicuzza contributed to this report. Jennifer Liberto can be reached at 352 848-1434 or liberto@sptimes.com