Voters braved long lines
By Michael D. Bates | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - At certain precincts Tuesday night, lines were so long that people waited up to two hours before casting a ballot.
Published: November 8, 2012
Published: November 8, 2012
As late as 10 p.m. — three hours after polls closed — there were reports of people still in line at precinct 14.
Most of the longer lines occurred at precincts that had merged with others. Precincts 14 and 44 were especially busy. Everyone who was in line by 7 p.m. was allowed to vote.
Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams said precinct 14 — which included voters from Masaryktown and a portion of Spring Hill — was the largest of those that were combined.
Williams said she realizes the inconvenience to voters but she had no control over the merging.
"This is the kind of thing that happens when you don't have the money in your budget to work with," she said.
Williams said her staff was done counting precinct votes by 10:15 p.m. Final absentee ballots were done sometime after around 10:30 p.m., she added.
Out of the 123,346 registered voters in Hernando County, 84,120 (or 68 percent) voted in Tuesday's general election, according to the Florida Supervisor of Elections.
By comparison, Citrus County's voter turnout was 75 percent. Other turnout totals include: Pasco County, 69 percent; Hillsborough County, 71 percent; Pinellas County, 72 percent; Sumter County, 82 percent; Marion County, 72 percent.
County commissioners in May voted 4-1 to approve a recommendation from Williams to reduce the number of voting precincts from 57 to 39.
Williams assured commissioners each voter would receive a mailing notifying them of polling changes and there would be public service announcements to educate people.
The precinct reduction was designed to save money in the elections office budget. But the office also considered voting trends, population make-up and geography.
Other reasons given for the precinct merging were: redistricting of House, Senate and Congressional lines; more voters choosing to vote early or by absentee ballot; polling places serving more than one precinct; and the statutory requirement to bring voting precinct boundaries in line with census block lines based on the 2010 Census.
Shirley Anderson, who will take over as the county's new supervisor of election starting Jan. 8, said she will analyze the precinct merging to see why lines were so long. She attributes some of it to the lengthy ballot, which was top-heavy with state amendments.
She especially wants to examine the trends of each precinct, including how many early voted or sent in absentee ballots.
"There is not an aspect of that office that I'm not going to analyze," Anderson said.
Anderson added she will give each elections office employee 90 days to get to know her. During that time, she will review each employee's job performance review and determine if they will remain on staff.
She suspects some may choose to stay on while others will leave.
Director of Operations Elizabeth Townsend, the Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the top spot, will undergo the same evaluation process, Anderson said.
Anderson said she looks to Citrus County Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill as her mentor and plans to examine how her counterpart there is able to routinely achieve larger voter turnouts and faster returns each election.
To start with, Anderson said there has to be better education of voters.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said long lines were the norm throughout the nation because of the high interest in this election.
Dukes said the board cut $35,000 from Williams' budget and reduced her staff. Given the huge turnout, Williams did the best she could, he said.
"It was driven by the circumstances, not by the number of precincts," Dukes said of the lines.
Dukes said he was aware of the grumblings and frustrations but, at the same time, was happy to see such interest in the election.
"I would rather have people complain about a long line than to have no lines," he said.
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