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Weather was the biggest hitch with low turnout at the polls

Published September 6, 2006

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It's a Tampa Bay twosome: Jim Davis of Tampa has won the Democratic nomination for governor. And Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg routed Tom Gallagher in the GOP race.

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Some polling places weren't marked clearly, a handful of others opened late and two precincts briefly ran out of paper ballots. But the worst voting glitch Tuesday appeared to be the soggy mess of rain that hugged Florida's lower east coast.

By late afternoon, up to 4 inches of rain had fallen along the coastline of Democrat-heavy South Florida, further dampening what was already expected to be a weak turnout.

The rain sent some candidates who were counting on South Florida votes into a panic.

"With the skies pouring down rain in South Florida, we face a huge risk of people staying home," Paul Neaville, campaign manager for Democrat gubernatorial hopeful Rod Smith, said in a blast e-mail Tuesday afternoon. "We're asking you, please: if you have a car and an umbrella, get out there and vote."

State elections officials didn't have immediate turnout numbers after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Central Time in the Panhandle, but said they were expecting 30 percent, at most.

"Based on our history, a 25-30 percent voter turnout with the weather conditions in some parts of the state would be great," said Division of Elections spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Most everything else across the state went well, with a few minor exceptions.

Of 6,854 precincts statewide, only eight opened late. In Seminole County, voting at two precincts began in parking lots.

Broward County officials said two precincts opened late there Tuesday morning, while in Duval County, officials said they briefly ran out of paper ballots.

And in Pasco County, one precinct opened 15 minutes late because lightning had struck the building the night before.

"But no one was turned away," Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning said.

Both political parties sent volunteers out to observe voting Tuesday, but neither reported seeing any major problems.

The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections' Web site directed voters in a south Tampa precinct to the wrong polling place, but an elections worker pointed them to the right one: Monroe Middle School.

Only one person went to the wrong location, Assistant Elections Supervisor Jim Reed said at noon. He said the mistake was being investigated.

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report.

[Last modified September 6, 2006, 01:01:03]

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