MANATEE — Citizens trooped to the polls in droves Tuesday, many before the 7 a.m. opening, despite threatening skies and rain in some areas.
At the Harvest United Methodist Church precinct in Lakewood Ranch, David Reese was first in line to vote at 6 a.m., and first to cast his ballot, finishing at 7:06 a.m.
Reese was one of many and crammed into the foyer of the massive church before the precinct opened for business.
“You should get a photo inside, it’s a zoo,” one woman remarked as she left the precinct, perhaps not realizing that poll workers don’t allow the press inside.
Another voter walked out of the precinct, threw his arms in the air, and said, “I’ve waited four years to do that.”
Dean and Kamla Long paused at the entrance of the church after voting, to take a photo marking the occasion.
“She is a first-time voter,” Dean Long said of his Trinidad-born wife.
It was much the same at Provident Orthodox Presbyterian Church, just south of Bradenton, where a line of voters stretched out to the parking lot.
Carmen Wiersema came to the precinct with her two young sons, John Henry, 5, and James, 15 months, at about 7 a.m.
It took her about 40 minutes to get through the line and mark her ballot, she said.
“We’re super busy everywhere,” said Bob Sweat, supervisor of elections. “We’re keeping them moving, but we’ve got continuous lines.” Some voters took advantage of rain to avoid lines.
Umbrellas up and rain coats on, Holmes Beach voters stepped around and over puddles to cast their ballots at St. Bernard Catholic Church.
“I’ve not heard one person who said they got out of line or didn’t go vote because of that,” Sweat said of the morning shower. Some precincts set up extra tables for voting areas and to keep people out of the rain.
Leni Hagen said she was happy for the rain because there was not a line pressuring her to rush through her ballot.
“It’s a relief to vote for president. I have mixed emotions — feeling anticipation and anxious,” Hagen said. “I’m very hopeful that whoever wins, there will be more cooperation with the Senate and House to accomplish objectives.”
Hagen said she researched Florida amendments before coming to the polls, but wished she knew more background on state Supreme Court and District 2 Court of Appeals judges facing retention votes.
Sweat said the 12 amendments listed on the ballot are causing longer lines at some locations.
“You can vote the regular ballot in three minutes,” he said. “It takes 30 minutes on the amendments if they haven’t looked at them, but we sent sample ballots to every voter in Manatee County.”
Laurie Krosney called the ballot the “wackiest” she’s ever seen.
“Legislators should hold themselves to a word count. Could it be any more obscure?” Krosney asked, referring to the amendments that created a 2-page, front-and-back, ballot. “We had a study group to figure out what they actually meant.”
Krosney, also a Holmes Beach voter, is looking forward to results of controversial island races. Several challengers are running against incumbents in the city commission and mayoral races.
“This is the first time I can remember being more excited about the local election than the presidential election,” Krosney said. “These issues are important to all of us.”
At Precinct 104, Pinebrook Clubhouse in Bradenton, one voter said he arrived at 7:30 a.m. and was done by about 8 a.m. There were 15 or 20 voters outside in a line, and another 10 inside, he said.
At precincts inside the Bradenton city limits, volunteers for candidates were on standby waving with signs and talking to passing voters.
“People want to know who he is,” said Lawrence Miller, wearing a shirt supporting mayoral challenger Richard O’Brien, and sitting outside his vehicle at Congregational United Church of Christ. “Some people are looking for change. The current mayor has been there too long. It’s time for new blood.”
A Bradenton firefighter sat a few spaces down on the bed of his pickup truck, holding a sign for incumbent Mayor Wayne Poston and city council candidate Gene Brown.
“We work for the city. If Mayor Poston wasn’t doing a good job, we’d be helping someone else,” he said. “I don’t try to engage people unless they start a conversation with me. I don’t want to be harassing someone or making them feel uncomfortable.” Several election deputies said voters complained about the campaigning that is lawfully permitted outside a 100-foot perimeter from the polling site. “We follow the law,” Sweat said. “We enforce the law, and I can’t control anyone outside that 100-foot mark. If they’re not obstructing the flow of voters, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
A few voters ended up at the wrong precinct and were directed to the proper location, Sweat said. But that was a rare problem because an election has been held since the most recent precinct changes, he added.
As far as problems with voting machines, voter fraud or other issues that could delay the evening’s results: “Knock on wood, so far, none,” Sweat said.