Confused at the polls? Get in line
PLANT CITY - Voting – it's done with such insufficient regularity that many people don't remember the drill. Sometimes confusing, it's even more so this election, thanks to redistricting that follows each decennial census. Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard concedes it can be puzzling. "We are doing things to, as much as possible, ameliorate and mollify any of the confusion that might be created by redistricting" and resulting precinct changes, Lennard said recently as he oversaw setup of Plant City's early voting site. Simply put, voters may find themselves in a new district for some local and state races, including some shifted to a different polling place. In Plant City, voters will see some familiar faces running for new offices.Johnnie B. Byrd Jr., a state House member from 1996-2004, is running for circuit judge. Rich Glorioso, who followed Byrd in the House District 62 seat, is running for Hillsborough County elections supervisor. And city commissioner and former mayor Dan Raulerson is running for Glorioso's seat, which thanks to redistricting now includes Thonotosassa and half of Temple Terrace. Still, there's ample help available on the election, as close as your voter information card or computer. As required following redistricting, new voter information cards were mailed to Hillsborough's 700,000 registered voters, Lennard said. The wallet-sized card identifies the individual's precinct number and address and district numbers for select local and state races. "Even though you haven't moved, your congressional district and/or board of county commissioners, school board, Florida House or Senate district may have changed as a result of redistricting," Lennard said. "Also, we've got a lot of information on our web site," including photographs of each polling place and directions to it, he said. But the easiest way to vote, Lennard suggests, is to do it before Tuesday. Election day is your last chance to vote," Lennard likes to point out. "You can vote at any one of the convenient early vote locations, regardless of your precinct," he said of that opportunity unavailable to those who wait until Tuesday. "On election day you must vote in your precinct," he said. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, but most early voting sites also have Saturday hours. While most voters are familiar with identification required at the polling site, some forget to bring a Florida driver license or other acceptable I.D. bearing both photo and signature. Another common mistake: "If you anticipate voting on election day, check to make sure you're in the right precinct, because it may have changed," Lennard said. "That slows you down more than anything else. And if you've moved, you need to update your registration." Stephen C. Craig, a University of Florida political science professor, said redistricting "is potentially confusing to voters in a variety of ways - regarding which districts they live in, who the candidates are and why the guy who represented them last time is running in a different district this time." Many "didn't know what districts they lived in or who represented them" before the lines were redrawn, he adds. "At least in partisan races, their votes are more likely to be shaped by party allegiances than anything else - and as long as they know where to show up on election day, their behavior won't be a whole lot different than it was two years ago," he said. "Bottom line: Yes, there may be a little more confusion in 2012 -- but the bar was set so low to begin with, it may be hard to tell the difference." Byrd, Glorioso and Raulerson said they have been walking door to door in neighborhoods far from Plant City to ensure that voters know who they are and what they are running for. Of the three, only Byrd will be on the Tuesday's ballot as the other two don't face opposition until the November general election. Byrd is using social media, which was virtually non-existent when he last ran in 2004. Byrd has embraced the new way to reach voters, creating a Facebook page and YouTube videos. He's also hitting the bricks. "They seem to be surprised that a (candidate for) judge would be knocking on their door," Byrd said.
"There has been tremendous uptick in the use of early vote and vote by mail," accounting for about half the total ballots cast in recent elections, Lennard said.