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Eager voters met with long lines

Some voters couldn't wait for the polls to open at 7 a.m. Tuesday. The supervisor of elections predicted a 70 percent or higher turnout.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


INVERNESS -- At 6:20 a.m. Tuesday, six people were lined up outside the Disabled American Veterans building off U.S. 41 N. The people were ready to vote, although the workers inside the building, which serves as the polling place for Precinct 402, couldn't open the doors until 7 a.m.

That was indicative of what happened throughout Citrus County on Tuesday. The presidential election, some good local races and beautiful weather helped inspire good voter turnout.

Citrus usually enjoys good turnout for presidential elections. By 2 p.m., Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill said overall turnout could register at 70 percent or more, the high end of the range she had predicted last week. Final turnout results weren't available at press time.

"Business is brisk," Gill said.

"We've been pretty steady," said Marjorie Allion, poll clerk at Precinct 402.

"Everything seems to be going real smoothly," said Fran Carman, clerk at First United Methodist Church on County Road 581, which is where voters in Precinct 400 voted.

Winn and Suzanne Webb -- supporters of Pete Kelly, the Republican school superintendent seeking a second term -- were not the only ones waiting for the polls at the Floral City Lions Club community building to open Tuesday.

"There was a line of people going all the way to the library (next door) at a quarter til 7," said Winn Webb, 50, a sheriff's deputy, as he munched on a breakfast sandwich. "It's been real steady ever since."

The Webbs, dressed in yellow T-shirts with Kelly's campaign logo, sat in the bed of a pickup truck in front of the precinct and waved at passing drivers.

"We're getting a lot of people giving the thumbs up to us," said Suzanne Webb, 56, an attendance assistant with the public schools. "We also get a lot of people stopping and asking for directions."

Here's a look at some other things the Citrus Times staff saw and heard while poll watching:

THE CRANE, THE CRANE: People who voted at, or drove past, the Citrus County Auditorium on U.S. 41 S might have looked up and noticed campaign signs for John Barnes and Lee Cooper attached to a crane.

There was only one problem: The crane stood on Inverness Airport land that the Crystal Aero Group leases from the county, and no one asked the group's president, Tom Davis, for permission.

If the crane operator had asked, Davis would have said no.

"I never authorize that kind of thing on airport property," Davis said. "Not only political signs, but any signs. I've had to turn down little old ladies and quilting bees."

Davis asked the crane operator, who said he didn't realize there would be problem, to move the crane Tuesday morning. He obliged. Davis said the crane never posed a safety threat for departing or arriving aircraft.

CRYSTAL RIVER REPORT: City voters were selecting a mayor and two City Council members, not to mention a president and U.S. senator, among other races.

Turnout was good. Even before the polls opened, long lines formed outside City Hall and St. Timothy Lutheran Church on U.S. 19. Including 400 absentee votes, nearly half of the city's 2,400 registered voters had cast ballots before 1 p.m., leaving many to predict a record turnout.

"They were champing at the bit to get in," said Jan Robertson, who worked polls at City Hall. Outside, candidates for council and mayor huddled in partisan groups, using their campaign signs to shield themselves from the sun. Most had arrived before 7 a.m. and were still there 12 hours later.

SUGARMILL WOODS REPORT: At St. Thomas Catholic Church, the voting location for Sugarmill Woods residents, a steady stream of cars came and went. In the parking area, School Board member Patience Nave waved a sign for Superintendent Pete Kelly. She said she felt confident that Kelly could win a second term. "We've worked very hard," she said.

Now and again she'd call out to friends and fellow Sugarmill neighbors, "Vote right." Nave is an active member of the Citrus County Republican Executive Committee.

Several responded back, "I voted right."

ABSENTEE BALLOTS: Citrus has about 81,000 registered voters, and 10 percent or more voted absentee by mail or by voting at one of the elections offices before Election Day. Gill said people who voted by mail had to be careful to sign the ballot and have a witness provide his or her signature and address.

In come counties, voters who returned their ballots without that information were out of luck; their ballots were invalid and thus void. Citrus is still a small enough county that Gill's staff can call people and ask them to stop by and correct their ballots.

If those efforts fail, the ballot must be discarded. "It's not very many at all," Gill said.

SUPPORT FOR BUSH: Evan Maranville, 56, a retired Floral City machinist, said he voted for the candidates recommended by the National Rifle Association, including George W. Bush.

"Everybody's got an ax to grind," said Maranville, who voted at the Lions Club. "The one thing I have a little control over is that -- the ability to defend myself if I need to."

Maranville said he also weighed the character traits of both candidates, and said Bush came out ahead of Al Gore.

"I believe (Bush) has integrity and honesty, although I don't know what his presidential skills are going to be like," he said. "I voted to get any vestiges of Clinton out of Washington."

Inverness retirees Ted and Edna Crites, who voted at the Auditorium, said they voted for Bush mostly as a protest vote against Al Gore.

"When they approved partial-birth abortions, well, to me that's wrong," said Edna Crites, 79.

"When a guy says, "I invented the Internet,' that was too much," added Ted Crites, 85.

At the Lutheran church in Crystal River, Evelyn Schrade said she voted for Bush because of his plan to allow people to invest part of their Social Security contributions. "Even though it doesn't affect me," said Schrade, 60, "it certainly will (affect) my kids."

Schrade, like many people voting in Crystal River, said they voted along party lines. She did vote for one Democrat, County Commission candidate Josh Wooten. Asked why she did not support the Republican candidate, Millie King, Schrade said, laughing. "I'd rather not say."

Rachel Eckert, 25, a Republican from Crystal River whose husband is a Democrat, turned out at her precinct Tuesday to fulfill her civic duty, but acknowledged she knew little about anyone other than the presidential candidates.

"They need to make it more available about who these people are we're supposed to vote for," she said. "I don't know any of these people."

She said she didn't like either of the presidential candidates but chose Bush for his stance opposing partial-birth abortion.

SUPPORT FOR GORE: Erin Richards, a 19-year-old Central Florida Community College student, voted in her first presidential election. Her choice: Al Gore.

"I agree with him on environmental issues, and I like the fact that he supports a woman's right to choose -- that's important," said Richards, who voted at the Auditorium.

Florence Danois, who also voted at the Auditorium, said she is an independent voter who was leaning toward Bush until she heard the revelation last week that Bush had been accused in 1976 of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Danois, 55, said Bush should not have tried to conceal his record. She voted for Gore.

"If I have to fill out a job questionnaire that poses that question, he should have to answer it, too," she said. "He's not above the law."

Crystal River resident Jerrie Rogers, 53, said was mainly focused on the presidential race. She voted for Gore. And her reason was simple: "He's there and we see what he's doing. Somebody else could make a worse turn."

LOTS OF TYPE: Some voters were overheard complaining that the list of presidential candidates on the ballots were listed too close together. Gill said she hadn't heard any complaints, but she could understand why people might have difficulty.

WATCH OUT: A sign posted outside the North Inverness polling place (the Disabled American Veterans building) read "No weapons permitted in the polling room."

A woman glanced at the sign then looked at her male companion. "You can't go in with that," she said, pointing to his cane.

-- Staff writers Barbara Behrendt, Bridget Hall Grumet, Bill Varian, Alex Leary and Greg Hamilton contributed to this report.

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