tampabay.com

Vote early and you just might regret it

A Times Editorial
Published August 22, 2006


Early voting for the Sept. 5 primary election began Monday, and absentee voting was well under way even before that, but voters who choose to vote early these days do so at their own risk.

If candidates are going to pull any dirty tricks in a campaign, they often do so in the last couple of weeks before election day. No doubt, many a voter who cast an early ballot has wound up wishing he could get that vote back.

Early voting, which began in 2004, and absentee balloting may have started out as ways to allow people to participate when they are away from home on election day, but both now are used by voters for the convenience - the opportunity to choose when they vote and to avoid long lines on election day.

Those who vote early can show up at one of 11 locations throughout Pinellas County any Monday through Saturday between now and Sept. 2 and cast their votes on a voting machine, just as they would on Sept. 5. For a list of early voting locations and hours you may vote, call the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office at 464-3551 or go to www.votepinellas.com.

Early voting, added to the option of voting by absentee ballot, makes casting a ballot easier than ever. In fact, in some counties, as much as 50 percent of the ballots cast come in before election day.

Candidates are encouraging the trend, often investing some of their campaign cash in mailings that urge voters to get out there early. Some candidates even provide an absentee ballot application or the hours and locations for early voting on their campaign fliers.

It is to their advantage to make voting look effortless, but they also are interested in grabbing that vote early, before the endorsements by newspapers and interest groups and before the campaigns' final, messy weeks, when many a scandal has been unveiled and campaigning goes negative.

If you can't be at home to vote on election day, by all means vote early or by absentee ballot and rejoice in the opportunity to engage in the process despite your schedule conflicts.

However, you may want to wait until close to election day to vote so you can examine the candidates' last-minute campaign practices and keep a close eye on the news media's campaign reports.

Wait long enough to ensure that you won't regret the ballot you cast.