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Election Day: dark skies, dark polls and light turnout

Citrus County voters - at least those who found the time and energy - brave the weather and other challenges to cast their ballots.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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Candidates scurried about the county, voters reached for their photo IDs and poll workers patiently completed their tasks Tuesday as Election Day, the primary version, got under way.

Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early reports indicated light, if relatively steady, voter traffic at the precincts.

Dark skies -- and a dark polling place -- were the top stories for at least part of the day.

The voter turnout usually is poor for primary elections, and the midday rain probably didn't help matters. It certainly didn't help in northwest Citrus, where storms led to brief power outages in two polling places.

Crystal River City Hall had problems of its own Tuesday: A driver knocked down a utility pole, making the parking lot to City Hall, which was a polling place, difficult to access.

Meanwhile, the Roller Barn on U.S. 41 N debuted as a polling place and received dim reviews from voters and workers alike. The problem: The aisle around the roller-skating rink, illuminated by just a few florescent lights in scattered ceiling panels, wasn't strong enough.

"Everyone walks in the door and says, "Oh, it's so dark in here,' " said Zana Ennis, the clerk supervising Precinct 409. "At least the voting booths have lights. It's a little difficult, but we have managed."

Among other things, voters were deciding three School Board seats and helping the region select a state attorney.

For the first time, School Board races were nonpartisan, which means they were placed on the primary ballot. Since only two candidates were competing in each race, the races were decided for good on Tuesday, with no November runoff necessary. Anyone waiting until November to vote lost his or her chance to have a say in the School Board contests.

The state attorney race was the only so-called "universal primary" on the Citrus ballot. A new state law allows all voters to vote when a race contains candidates from just one party and there is no opposition in the general election.

Such was the case in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which also includes Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. The Republican incumbent, Brad King, faced opposition only from a fellow Republican, Henry Ferro.

At Precinct 404 in Gospel Island, clerk Anita Colvin said the early morning traffic wasn't too heavy.

"It's been steady," Colvin said about 9:30 a.m.

She reminded friends how important the election was, especially with the School Board and state attorney races. But "nobody takes it seriously during the primary," Colvin said.

Willie Eldridge, the former Inverness Middle School principal, said he thought most voters knew the School Board and state attorney races would be decided Tuesday.

"If people don't know," Eldridge said, "it's their own fault."

Bill Hickman, 56, a Republican who is retired, showed up for Tuesday's primary in large part to vote against Republican Senate candidate Bill McCollum.

"I didn't like the way he went after Clinton," Hickman said.

The First Presbyterian Church, on Washington Avenue off State Road 44 E, enjoyed a successful debut as a polling place.

"No problems. Everybody seems happy," clerk Pam Harris reported about 10 a.m.

There was a much different story at the Roller Barn.

"It is terrible," voter Loretta VanFossen said. "I used to work in the polls. The hours are long, but you don't mind if the place is nice. But this you can hardly see."

Ennis, the election clerk, said her workers also were turned off by the dusky decor.

"Even my clerks want to work at the First Presbyterian Church," Ennis said, referring to the south Inverness precinct. "It's new and beautiful."

There was no way to make the room any brighter, short of turning on the flashing colored lights above the rink itself.

"Then people would really have a hard time seeing," voter Jeanne Smail said with a chuckle.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill said she visited the polling place to check on the complaints. She said voters' eyes just needed time to adjust to the Roller Barn's interior, which obviously was darker than daylight.

Despite the low lighting, however, most voters said they had no problem punching their ballot cards.

John and LaVerne Brogan came to the polls Tuesday as they do for every election, because they believe every race counts.

"It's as important to vote in the primary as it is in the general election," Mrs. Brogan said.

With only a third of the county's voters expected to go to the polls Tuesday, however, the Brogans realized that view put them in the minority.

"There's just too much apathy in this country," John Brogan said, shaking his head.

- Times staff writers Bridget Hall Grumet and Bill Varian contributed to this report.

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