Early voters jam Manatee elections office

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 28, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County residents eagerly lined up to participate in early voting Saturday, creating a long line out the door of the county's sole polling place, the supervisor of elections office.

People were sweltering amid temperatures in the low 80s, sipping from bottles of water.

One elderly man became ill in the heat as he waited in line Saturday to try to vote early in Bradenton. An ambulance was called to treat the man, who was helped to the front of the two-block-long line to sit in the shade until paramedics arrived.

Another person in a wheelchair, Ann Mallette, was taken out of the line by Assistant Supervisor of Elections

Nancy Bignell after the woman's husband sought help because she was in frail health, and couldn't wait any longer to vote.

Bignell advised the couple to call the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office Monday and request an absentee ballot, rather than waiting any longer, and they left without voting.

Those standing at the back of the line at Manatee's only early voting site were prepared to wait up to two hours, they said.

Manatee Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat said early voting has always been at his office at 600 301 Boulevard W., Suite 108.

He said he would have liked another early voting site, but that he didn't have a place big enough to accomplish it.

"The only problem I'm having is, I've got a long line," he said looking at people snaking down the block from the front door of his office.

Those waiting near Mallette, 66, of Parrish, became concerned because she appeared to be suffering in her wheelchair in the heat.

Her husband, Kenneth Mallette, 67, a retiree from Parrish, said he hadn't expected such a big crowd.

He thought he had to wait in line to request an absentee ballot, but Bignell told him to just call to request one Monday instead.

As it happened, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and Democratic county commission candidate James T. Golden were waiting near the Mallettes.

"I'm told the wait is an hour-plus," said Golden.

He noted that people are serious about the election, and perhaps it was time to revisit "the issue of having more than one polling place" for early voting.

He was also concerned that there had been no provision made for those with disabilities.

Whitmore, a nurse, went to help the man who was awaiting paramedics.

A retiree from University Park, Christopher Hutchins, 74, had spent 90 minutes in line, but was almost to the door of the polls.

"It's a privilege to be in this line," he said.

Reina Posada, 33, a housewife from Bradenton, brought her 6-month-old child in a stroller, along with her 8-year-old son.

"I've come to vote; it's close to my house," she said.

About 1,300 had voted by 4 p.m. at the Manatee site, according to Sharon Steif, chief deputy.

Sarasota County has four early-voting sites in the Sarasota area, and one each in North Port and Venice, according to Joyce Soltis, an administrative assistant for the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections office.

By about 5 p.m. Saturday, about 5,578 Sarasota residents had voted, according to Soltis.

Early voting in Manatee County runs through Nov. 3.

The early voting location the Manatee supervisor of elections office, 600 301 Blvd. W., Suite 108, will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 29 to Nov. 3.

Early voters must present both picture and signature identification, according to the elections office.

For more information, call 941-741-3823 or visit votemanatee.com.

The general election is set for Nov. 6.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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