MANATEE -- Early voting came to a close Saturday afternoon, with county officials saying good things about the turnout and the new voting system as residents cast ballots on two referendum issues.
Election officials say they're ready for election day on Tuesday.
They were impressed with the number of voters that came out, about 276 Saturday and about 2,382 throughout the entire early voting period.
"It's been a tremendous turnout," said elections deputy Bobby Edington.
Edington stood by greeting and directing voters as
they entered the Supervisor of Elections office at 600 301 Blvd. West in Bradenton.
Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at about 100 precincts around the county.
On Tuesday, Manatee County residents will be voting on whether or not to approve a half-cent tax, an issue that has been the source of heated debate in the past few months.
If residents vote to approve the tax hike, the county projects it will raise $23 million to pay for county health care programs, including services for the indigent. Currently the county pays for it using both property taxes and a health care fund that's set to run out in 2015.
Voters will also be deciding whether or not to grant county commissioners the authority to grant property tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses.
"People seem to be very vocal about this one," Edington said. "They really tell you what's on their mind."
The new "voting on demand" system also proved to be a hit with staff and the county's supervisor of elections, Michael Bennett.
"We have not had a single issue or complaint," Bennett said.
The new machines print out the specific ballot that is unique to each voter when their identification is swiped at the check-in counter. Bennett says it has proven to be more efficient and accurate.
"Last election we had over 250 different ballot styles," Bennett said. "Each ballot costs an average of 23 to 26 cents; we use to waste thousands of them."
Bennett and the staff were glad that early voting provided them with an opportunity to become accustomed to the new machines.
"People who came early were very understanding," Bennett said. "I know we are ready now."
Edington agreed with the success of the "voting on demand" machines.
"It worked like clockwork," Edington said.
Bennett was also pleased with the number of absentee ballots. As of Saturday over 13,000 absentee ballots had already been processed and over 3,000 more still waiting.
As early voting came to an end workers, began to work diligently to prepare for election day. Machines and paperwork were being prepared for precinct workers pick up for Tuesday balloting.
Voter logs are also updated manually, to ensure accuracy on who can or cannot vote, as well as who has already voted.
This is why Bennett says early voting has to end Saturday to give workers enough time to prepare the logs.
"They can't do it until early voting is done," Bennett said. " Staff is working until two or three in the morning so your vote counts."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.