October 31, 2012 at 11:12 am
Voters stood in line for one, two and sometimes three hours Tuesday as they waited to cast a ballot in Southwest Florida.
For most of them, it was worth it.
“I couldn’t wait to get Obama out of office,” Bonita Springs resident Rheal Desrochers said immediately after voting. “I’d stand in line six hours.”
Local polls have been slammed since they opened Saturday, with more than 24,000 people in Collier County and 23,000 in Lee County participating in early voting. On Saturday, Collier voters had a record high turnout, and one of the county’s locations — the Orange Blossom library in North Naples — is the state’s third busiest voting facility, said Tim Durham, chief deputy supervisor of elections.
That’s meant long lines and crowded parking lots, but election officials in Collier County hope to at least give voters a heads up. The county’s website, www.colliervotes.com, includes a list of early voting wait times so residents can know what they’re in for. More than 6,500 Collier residents voted Tuesday.
Durham said Hurricane Sandy has given new urgency to some voters, while others are concerned about 11 amendments that are on the state’s ballot.
“I think with both of those things put together and combined, our voters are real motivated,” he said. “They don’t want to put this off until Election Day.”
Gretchen Urban, of Bonita Springs, said her iPad kept her occupied during her three-hour wait at the Elections Office branch at 24951 Old U.S. 41.
“It’s important we vote,” she said. But “I wanted to get it over with.”
U.S. Senate hopeful Connie Mack was one of more than 5,600 people who voted Tuesday in Lee County, although he didn’t have to wait in line.
“We feel good about where we are and where we’ll end up on Election Day,” said Mack, the state’s Republican nominee. “We need to get people out to vote.”
Unlike voters in Collier, those in Lee don’t have access to a list of wait times. Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said her staff is swamped with phone calls and has “every available mouth on the phone.”
“We wanted to do that, but I don’t have another body to spare,” she said of updating the website with wait times. “People will have to drive by and take their chances, I guess.”
Some voters have skirted the lengthy wait times by traveling to less popular polling sites. Jose Negron, who was at the Orange Blossom library Tuesday afternoon, said he voted in Immokalee even though he lives in Golden Gate Estates.
“I’ve voted there before, so I know you can vote there and only take 10 minutes,” he said.
Neither Durham nor Harrington were overly concerned with the long lines discouraging voters.
“In a general election where you’re picking the president … I don’t think it’s realistic to think you’re going to walk right in the door and instantaneously vote,” Durham said, adding that residents will be assured time to vote as long as they’re in line by 7 p.m.
“We’ve had long lines for years,” Harrington said. “We have become an ‘I want it now’ society. If it takes 10 minutes to download a song, it takes too long. That might not be the way voting is right now.”
In Collier, Durham suggested voters request an absentee ballot by today’s 5 p.m. deadline. Harrington said Lee voters can request a mail ballot by the same deadline, but said they might need to hand deliver it to the elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be sure their vote gets in on time.
“The sooner you early vote, the better. It’s going to get more intense as far as people putting it off,” Durham said. “And make sure you bring your ID with you.”
A folding chair and some reading material wouldn’t hurt either.
–Jessica Lipscolm, Naples Daily News/FLDemocracy