Ours was first county in state to give results
By JIM ROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000
INVERNESS -- Message to America: Don't blame Citrus County for Florida's -- and, by extension, the nation's -- electoral nightmare.
Citrus was the first of Florida's 67 counties to report complete election results to Tallahassee. Those results included the absentee ballots, save a handful still expected from absentee voters who are overseas.
Analysts spent hours on national TV late Tuesday and early Wednesday trying to figure out which presidential candidate had won the Sunshine State and thus the presidency.
Those pundits did not paint a pretty picture: Vote totals from some counties came in at an agonizingly slow pace; some poll workers mishandled ballot boxes in Broward County; rural counties were so unsophisticated that they couldn't immediately tally their absentee ballots.
All those problems received full airing, and commentary, on the major networks. But Citrus wasn't part of the problem.
In fact, the only reason Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill made news -- locally, if not on big-time TV -- was because she delivered final election results less than one hour after the polls closed.
About 70.5 percent of the county's 81,000-plus registered voters participated in the election. More than 10,000 of them voted absentee, either through the mail or by stopping at the elections office.
Gill provided the results of the absentee ballots about 7:15 p.m., with final results coming not half an hour later. That was much faster than even Gill had predicted, and the performance brought gasps from people who had gathered at Gill's office and readied themselves for a long wait.
Gill's counterparts statewide didn't match her efficiency. As midnight yielded to Wednesday morning, some Florida counties still had not reported complete results.
Ordinarily, that might not have been a big deal. But it became apparent early Wednesday that the Florida winner would surpass the requisite 270 electoral votes to take the presidency.
The electoral craziness started about 8 p.m. Tuesday, when the major TV networks projected that Al Gore would win Florida. They took back the prediction a few hours later after learning that data on which they relied might be incomplete and inaccurate.
Then, about 2:15 a.m., those same networks projected that George W. Bush would take the Sunshine State and its 25 electoral votes. That was enough votes to put Bush over the top, and thus enough to trigger celebrations at the official Bush camp in Austin, Texas, and mourning in the Gore camp in Nashville, Tenn.
But the certainty certainly didn't last long: About 3:30 a.m., as TV audiences and the Nashville crowd waited for Gore to deliver a concession speech, the vice president stopped short. The Florida vote was too close, his campaign manager said during a live TV appearance; Gore would await a recount.
Locally, the election's most prominent race was for school superintendent. The Republican incumbent, Pete Kelly, lost a close battle to his former assistant, David Hickey.
Otherwise, incumbents all fared well, except in Crystal River, where they couldn't have done much worse. The mayoral race between Ron Kitchen and Sid Kennedy headed for a recount of its own.
Meanwhile, Janice Warren, a Republican, became the new tax collector and Josh Wooten, a Democrat, became a county commissioner. There was no incumbent in either of those races.
(See related stories in this section for more details on these races.)
Here are some other news items from Election Night:
SHOWING UP: The award for top voter turnout on Tuesday goes to Precinct 108, Pine Ridge, where 71.2 percent of the 2,729 registered voters went to the polls. The poorest showing was at Precinct 303, central Homosassa Springs, where 48.65 percent of the 1,827 voters visited the polls.
It should be noted that more than 10,000 people issued absentee votes. As a result, they were counted under the general "absentee" precinct, not in their home precinct.
BEVERLY HILLS MSBU: Residents agreed to tax themselves additionally to spruce up neighborhoods. The measure, which is advisory in nature, won support from 62 percent of the voters. Results of the non-binding referendum to create a municipal service benefit unit -- a taxing district commonly called an MSBU -- now go to the Citrus County Commission, which will have the final say.
YOU BE THE JUDGE: Citrus voters will continue electing their county judges. About 71 percent of voters rejected a measure that would have changed from the current system, which is a mixture of election and appointment by the governor, to merit retention.
Likewise, Citrus voters and their counterparts throughout the 5th Judicial Circuit, which also includes Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties, rejected a move to change the way circuit judges are selected. In the circuit, 66 percent of the voters said they wanted to keep the current system.
JUDGE THOMPSON WINS BIG: Speaking of appellate judges, Citrus voters and their counterparts throughout the 5th District Court of Appeal overwhelmingly agreed that Judge Emerson Thompson should serve six more years. In Citrus, 72 percent of the voters said Thompson should be retained; throughout the district, which includes Hernando and many Central Florida counties, Thompson won in similar fashion.
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From the Times election desk
Presidential State Pinellas Hillsborough Pasco Hernando Citrus
State Pinellas Hillsborough Pasco Hernando Citrus
Pinellas Hillsborough Pasco Hernando Citrus
From the AP