Election Day arrives; time to cast your ballot

Today's the day, the final opportunity for Americans to cast a ballot in one of the most vicious campaigns in the nation's history. Thankfully, this will all be over in a matter of hours -- although the final results for the presidency may take longer in this exceptionally close contest.

Floridians should well remember that the outcome of the 2000 duel between George W. Bush and Al Gore was not decided from more than a month after election day as recounts delayed results until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Bush the winner. This year's Barack Obama-Mitt Romney race could be a nail-biter, too, with the winner taking home the state's 29 electoral votes.

Most of Florida's polls close at 7 p.m., so there's plenty of time to cast a ballot -- and no excuses to avoid this civic duty and responsibility.

Don't be dissuaded from voting by thinking your lone vote won't make a difference. History teaches the lesson that every single ballot matters, especially in a battleground state such as Florida with its prized number of electoral votes.

The Bush-Gore contest was decided by a mere 537 votes out of about 6 million cast in the Sunshine State. After the U.S. Supreme Court halted any further recounts, Bush narrowly won Florida and its electoral votes to capture the presidency. The final Electoral College vote came in at 271 for Bush and 266 for Gore.

Your vote does indeed count. Every single one does.

This year brings other election lessons:

n Early voting has become big, even with the new state law that slashed the number of days from 14 to eight and eliminated the final Sunday before the general election. Manatee's historic turnout surpassed 16,300, topping the initial estimate by Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat.

Many of those hardy voters lined up and waited hours to cast their ballots at the only polling place that the elections supervisor set up. Many other counties served their customers far better with a number of polling places. Sarasota offered six sites around the county. Manatee's next supervisor of elections should follow suit and serve the voters with more locations.

n Absentee voting isn't the panacea once thought to be easy and fool-proof, a home remedy to precinct lines. Now those ballots carry the highest risk of being rejected.

In all their wisdom in cracking down on voter fraud with that 2011 law, the Florida Legislature included a provision that requires signatures on ballots. That would be fine, except: voters forget to sign, signatures change and some signatures don't match the one on voter registration forms.

Plus, absentee ballots are delivered to the wrong address or encounter delays in the mail.

Supervisors of elections rejected hundreds of these ballots in the August primary on questionable signatures alone. One of the messages here is don't scribble your name on your ballot. Another is check the signature on your registration form and possibly submit a new one.

Want to ensure your vote counts? Cast your ballot in person. If something goes awry, it can be fixed on the spot. Not so with absentee ballots. By the time a voter receives a rejection notice from the elections office, it's too late -- and there are no remedies in law.

Please vote and encourage others, too. Don't forget to check your registration card to ensure you're heading to the correct precinct. Many locations changed.