Early voting begins in Hillsborough County
TAMPA - The collapsible wooden chair, which cost $1 at a garage sale, has been used at graduations, political rallies and other events. Shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday, Paul Einslen and Elise Simpson Einslen brought the chair to Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library in South Tampa. They figured they would need it while waiting in a long line during the first minutes of the first day of early voting in Hillsborough County. But the Einslens cast ballots within minutes. "It wasn't bad at all," she said. On Saturday thousands of Hillsborough County residents chose to vote early, rather than wait for the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting continues through Saturday.The Hillborough County Supervisor of Elections Office said 20,742 early votes were cast Saturday. Sharon Holmes was among Hillsborough voters taking advantage of early voting. She voted Saturday morning at the West Tampa Branch Library. It took only a few minutes. "No waiting at all," she said. "I know it's going to be an extremely long line on Election Day." Patti Woodard of South Tampa – she wouldn't say her age but joked that she's "up there" – voted for the first time Saturday. She said it was exhilarating to come to Jan Platt and vote early. She said Obama needs four more years. "He needs more time to do what needs to be accomplished," she said. "Four years is not long enough. And I don't think Mitt Romney is worth two cents." This election, Florida's voters have fewer days to vote early. In 2008, early voting lasted 12 days. This year, due to a new state law, early voting is allowed for eight days. The law, though, does allow counties to maintain a maximum 96 hours for early voting – if the counties choose to do so. As a result, Hillsborough's 15 early voting locations will stay open 96 hours during the early voting period. The locations will be open longer hours each day than they were in 2008 – from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Due to the changes, Hillsborough County's supervisor of elections office is "hesitant to make projections" about the number of ballots that will be cast this year, office spokesman Travis Abercrombie said. In 2008, 146,558 early votes were cast in Hillsborough. If the new law had not passed, early voters could have come to the polls for the first time Oct. 22. Instead, voting began at 7 a.m. Saturday and continues through Saturday Nov. 3. Holmes and Elise Simpson Einslen don't believe having fewer early voting days will drastically affect Hillsborough voters. People still have plenty of time to vote early if they choose to do so, they said. Two other changes from 2008: Hillsborough's early voting will be held for the first time on a Sunday this year, and two additional early voting sites are available this election – North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 North Blvd.; and Town 'N Country Regional Public Library, 7606 Paula Drive. In Pasco County, meanwhile, early voting also runs through Saturday. It is available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at seven Pasco locations: East Pasco Government Center, 14236 Sixth St. in Dade City; West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive, Suite 110 in New Port Richey; Land O'Lakes Branch Library, 2818 Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes; Regency Park Branch Library, 9701 Little Road in New Port Richey; South Holiday Branch Library, 4649 Mile Stretch Drive in Holiday; Hudson Regional Library, 8012 Library Road in Hudson; and New River Branch Library, 34043 State Road 54 in Zephyrhills. When voting early, people must bring a valid photo and signature identification. Acceptable valid photo identification includes: a Florida driver's license, a Florida ID card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a debit or credit card, military ID, student ID, retirement center ID, neighborhood association ID or public assistance ID. Hillsborough's elections office received more than 73,000 vote-by-mail ballots as of late this week, Abercrombie said. In the 2008 election, the office received 121,682.
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