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    Prospects fall with heavy rain

    By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, COLLINS CONNER and JIM ROSS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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    With three Hernando County commissioners facing vigorous opposition and a raft of candidates vying for other countywide seats, Elections Supervisor Anne Mau had predicted Election Day turnout would hit 50 percent.

    By late afternoon Tuesday, she was revising her forecast: Maybe 20 percent.

    "It's still very light. The weather just discouraged a lot of people," Mau said, noting the area's heavy afternoon rains. "I'm going to be awfully disappointed in our voters if we don't do any better than 20 to 25 percent."

    Elections workers throughout the Tampa Bay area and the North Suncoast were reporting a generally low turnout in Tuesday's primary election.

    The weather hurt. In Pasco County, rain pelted down so fiercely that it even kept Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning temporarily away from his polling place. He couldn't get out of his car.

    "I sat out front for five minutes, then I said, "Let's blow this. I'll come back later,' " he said.

    "The turnout was already slow," he said. "But now that the rain came it has been even slower."

    Pinellas County also suffered through a couple hours of heavy rain, which seemed to keep people away.

    "And that was during the soaps, so I don't know if it was because of the soaps or the rain," said Joan Brock, deputy administrator of the Supervisor of Elections Office.

    Still, the threat of rain didn't stop everyone.

    "I've lived in this county for 41 years, and I make it a point to vote," said Skip Erickson of Brooksville, a retired school principal. "I don't think anybody's got a right to gripe if they don't vote."

    No major difficulties with vote-counting were reported within the first hour of tabulating Tuesday night, but some morning voters in Citrus County had a complaint. They said it was too dark inside the Roller Barn skating rink, a new polling place this year, for them to read their ballots properly.

    The light turnout came in spite of a new provision in the state Constitution that opens primaries to additional voters.

    For example, two candidates, both Republicans, were seeking the state attorney's job in the circuit that includes Citrus and Hernando counties.

    Under the new "universal primary" provision, all registered voters were allowed to vote in that race.

    Under the old rules, only Republicans would have gotten that chance.

    Throughout the Tampa Bay area, the universal primary seemed to be getting nearly universal acclaim.

    "It's important that all people have an opportunity to vote for people across the board," said LeRoy Flemmings Jr., 57, a retired music educator from St. Petersburg.

    Although he is a lifelong Democrat, he was able to vote in a primary contest between three Republican sheriff candidates and two Republicans vying for public defender.

    "I'm glad to have the opportunity to do that," he said.

    - Times staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.

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