VIDEO: Voters take new machines for a test drive

election_2008

There were few problems reported during Tuesday's voting - probably because so few people turned out for an election that lacked the excitement of statewide or national races.

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Floridians cast ballots for judges and local officials while they helped set the final matchups for congressional and legislative races. Among the highlights in an election that had few, Republicans were going to find out who will face U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, who two years ago won the seat vacated by disgraced Congressman Mark Foley.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. EDT in all but the western Florida Panhandle, which is on Central Daylight Time. Across the state, the story was similar: no lines, no problems.

At a suburban Moose Lodge in northwest Tampa that houses two voting precincts, poll workers sat idle late Tuesday morning, some with their noses in paperback novels. One worker said only about 30 voters showed up all morning.

One was Debbie Holland, a 55-year-old saleswoman who wore a Barack Obama campaign button. She said it didn't matter to her that the ballot didn't contain any high-profile races.

"Whenever I have the chance to have some input in my government," she said, "I believe in taking advantage of that."

Among the few glitches, there were reports that some poll workers failed to tear off tabs on ballots, causing problems when they were fed into machines, said Mary Cooney, of the Supervisor of Elections office in Broward County, the state's second-most populous county.

Besides that, though, things ran smoothly.

"The phones are quiet," Cooney said. "Nobody's waiting and they're ready for people but nobody's there."

In Leon County, Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho delivered ballots to nine voters in an area of Tallahassee affected by Tropical Storm Fay.

The election was a chance for voters in some counties to get used to new voting machines. In 15 counties, the touch-screen machines that replaced punchcard ballots after the 2000 presidential recount now have been replaced by optical scan machines to ensure a paper trail.

At Beacon Cove Intermediate School in Jupiter, 38-year-old voter Heather Harrington wasn't impressed with Palm Beach County's new machines.

"It just doesn't feel like it's an improvement to me," she said. "It's something different. It's not an improvement."

Alice Cook, 77, wondered why officials couldn't create a system like an ATM machine.

"Push a little thing, they give me a little printout," she said. "Why can't they do that?"

Secretary of State Kurt Browning said all but six of 6,913 precincts opened on time. The state's voter assistance line received 172 calls as of 4 p.m., most from people asking questions about where or how to vote. Only four complaints were logged and all were resolved, said Department of State spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis.

About 250,000 people cast ballots during early voting. Some voting Tuesday were disappointed they were among the few.

"I think it's kind of pathetic," said Rebecca Carlson, who voted at Christian Life Center in Fort Lauderdale. "No one is showing up for local government, and the spotlight is all at the national level when most of the decisions that affect our daily lives happen on the local level."

One notable race was the Republican contest to choose a challenger for Mahoney, who most thought didn't have a chance to win two years ago until Foley resigned a little more than a month before the election amid reports that he'd sent sexually inappropriate e-mails to teenage male congressional pages.

The GOP candidates were Tom Rooney, a lawyer and former Army officer; Hal Valeche, a wealthy investor and former Palm Beach Gardens city councilor; and state Rep. Gayle Harrell.

Tuesday's election also included primaries for legislative races, including several seats that have opened because term limits force lawmakers to leave office after eight years.

There were also races for state attorneys, public defenders, judges and local commissions and boards. Among notable state races, Former Florida State All American and pro football star Peter Boulware sought the Republican nomination for a seat that's been held by a Democrat. Also, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, defended his seat after having a theft conviction overturned on appeal.

Video via WFTS TV in Tampa. Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington and Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Laura Wides-Munoz and Christine Armario in Miami, Mitch Stacy in Tampa, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Matt Sedensky in Miami and Kelli Kennedy in Lighthouse Point contributed to this report.

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