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'Huge amount at stake' Tuesday

About 70 percent of voters don’t turn out for primaries, which decide many local races.

Published September 4, 2006

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Tuesday is primary election day, when Democrats and Republicans nominate their leaders and independents select their picks in local races such as school board, judge and, in some cases, county commission.

After Tuesday, the leading gubernatorial candidates will be winnowed from four to two.

One Republican chief financial officer candidate will survive to run in the general election, as will one Democratic candidate for attorney general.

And all over the Tampa Bay area, the sniping that has characterized some state House and Senate primary races — and even spawned a defamation lawsuit in a judicial race — will cease, and the losing candidates will back the winners in a united effort to beat the other party.

Well, maybe; Bruised feelings sometimes take a while to heal.

Today also is the day after Labor Day, and there’s a decent chance of thunderstorms.That has elections officials predicting weak turnout at the polls.

Secretary of State Sue Cobb informally polled county supervisors of elections last week, asking them for their predictions on voter turnout, based on early voting figures.

The range: 15 to 30 percent.

Over the past three decades, voter turnout in primary elections has declined, said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Division of Elections. Thirty years ago, average turnout in a primary election was 30 percent. Ten years ago, it had slipped to 24 percent, Ivey said.

The high end of the estimated turnout range for today’s primary was reported by counties where there are contested open primaries for school board or county commission races.

“One of the things we are finding is that, where there are local races, the turnout will probably be higher,” Ivey said.
In the Tampa Bay region, there are local open primary races — meaning all registered voters can vote regardless of political affiliation — in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus, but so far early voting hasn’t been remarkable.

In Pinellas, 8,875 people voted early through Friday, according to state elections records.

Hillsborough came in stronger, with more than 21,982 people voting early. Pasco was 5,494 through early Friday afternoon, with Hernando reporting 2,546 early voters and Citrus, 2,580.

Kurt Browning, supervisor of elections for Pasco County, said he doesn’t understand why more people don’t vote. But his shop is ready to handle whoever does come.

“I don’t know what it is — there’s a huge amount at stake,” Browning said.

His office released press advisories last week, reminding voters of one very important change in law: Voters must bring photo and signature identification with them when they vote. A combination of forms of ID may be used to meet both the signature and photo requirements.

Voters who don’t have the required identification can still vote, but they must fill out a provisional ballot, which takes longer to do and is subject to approval by local elections officials.

That new rule means political party officials will be staffing the polls to observe and help their voters with any problems they may have.

“Primary day is a test run for the general election,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski.

Republicans have also said they will send volunteers to the polls.

[Last modified September 4, 2006, 22:01:05]

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