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NAPLES — A slow but steady stream of residents continue to cast their ballots at East Naples Community Park late this afternoon. Trends among many voters at the polling site on Thomasson Drive include a lack of familiarity with the local races, tendencies to vote along party lines and a stronger care for the gubernatorial race than for any other candidates or issues, according to exit polling by the Daily News thus far.
Cheryl Mitchell, 31, said she was clear on how she would vote in the "big races" for governor and senator, but was shaky on how to vote on the local races and issues.
After casting her ballot, Mitchell paused to recall who she selected.
"I hate to admit it, but I just picked whoever came first," she said of the races for two of three open school board seats.
When it came to the Collier County School Board District 1 race, Mitchell picked a familiar first name, she said.
"I didn't understand most of the amendments, so I just voted no," Mitchell said.
She wasn't alone in expressing regret for her lack of knowledge on the local election and amendments to the Florida Constitution.
People continued to be quick, however, to name their choice for governor and for senator just as Mitchell was.
At the First Baptist Church of Bonita Springs poll location off Vanderbilt Drive, a steady stream of votes were cast between noon and 3 p.m.
The parking lot outside the church was packed with voters from precincts 135, 133 and 168, which make up parts of southwest Bonita Springs.
Poll Deputy Peggy McCluskey said this kind of turnout was unusual for a midterm election, but isn't surprised by the turnout.
"I think there's been so much interest in it that it doesn't come as a surprise," McCluskey said of the poll location's activity.
The amount of voters may have tapered off in the afternoon at the Bonita Springs Community Hall and at the Bonita Springs YMCA, but the fervor of election day was still palpable.
"It's my duty. It's my constitutional right to vote." Debbie Walker, said immediately after voting. "More people should be coming out, I hope they didn't get lazy or give up."
Mark Harris has been working outside the 80th precinct, drawing attention for his firefighting friends, Edward Fitzgerald, Evans Conforti, and Frank Liles, and has watched the crowd slow down.
"One day when I was at the early voting," Harris said. "I'd say there were (about) 400 people there."
Early voting may be one reason for the afternoon dip, but one thing is certain, unless there's a tie, winners will be announced tonight.
"Thanks for voting," said Alex Grantt, who is running for Fire District Commissioner, to voters coming in and out of the YMCA.
Alison Bryant, 49, stood outside the polling station at Vineyard's Community Park wearing a Matt Hudson t-shirt and holding a sign.
It was her first time campaigning for anyone, she said.
"I work with Matt and I support what he's doing in Tallahassee," she said. Beside her was Christel Johnson, 46, who stopped by the polling site at 7 a.m. to put a sign in the ground, and then came back at 8 a.m. to campaign for Matt Hudson.
"It's been pretty steady," Johnson said. "We're offering people information, but a lot of people are like, 'No, no, we're already informed.'"
By 2 p.m. more than 682 people had trekked to the two polling sites at Max A. Hasse Jr. Community Park in Golden Gate Estates - including a number of parents who brought their children to partake/witness democracy in action.
And with the half-way mark passed, poll workers were expecting to see a continuing stream of people wanting vote before 7 p.m.
There is no wait in line for voters at East Naples Community Park as of early afternoon. A steady stream of residents continue to cast their ballots, many of whom say they voted along party lines. That party was Republican with only a few exceptions today.
Votes for local candidates, such as the three open School Board seats, are often just fleeting memories with many voters, saying they weren't very familiar with those candidates. Some didn't choose a person for the seat; others said thy chose the first person on the ballot and still others just couldn't recall what they'd done moments earlier.
People have been quick, however, to name their choice for governor and for senate during exit polling conducted by Naples News.
Loretta Huenefeld, a campaign worker for Collier County School Board candidate Roy Terry, was working the polls at St. Williams Catholic Church in North Naples and called the Supervisors of Elections office to complain about being harassed Tuesday morning.
She said a man approached her and yelled at her for rallying for Terry.
"He was bullying me and said what a terrible man my candidate is. That's not fair, all these people heard."
Huenefeld talked to a poll worker about the unidentified man, especially because he also appeared to have approached voters in line, within the 100-foot zone where voters cannot be approached.
Before calling the elections office and leaving a message, Huenefeld complained to a poll worker about the man. The poll worker took the man inside.
A Collier County elections official says a problem with the computerized voter check-in system this morning at Edison State College was resolved.
The check-in system, known as Evid, had been used in early voting but not for Election Day, and some poll workers had problems getting the computer up and running, said qualifying officer Dave Carpenter.
The polling place at Edison was 15 minutes late in opening this morning, he said.
The glitch had nothing to do with the machines that scan the ballots and count the votes.
Voter turnout was steady at the First Baptist Church of Bonita Springs, where three precincts combine for 32 voting booths in the building.
"It's a lot heavier than the primary, and it does not appear heavier than the last presidential election," clerk Robert Schroeder said. "Somewhere in between."
Many husbands and wives arrived to vote together.
Exit polling from the church showed heavy support for Republican candidates, especially gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott and U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio. Those who chose Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink more often chose Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate, exit polling showed.
Challengers appeared to have the edge in three Bonita Fire board races, early exit polling showed.
A steady stream of voters continue to make their way in and out of Max A. Hasse Community Park in Golden Gate Estates late this morning.
"It was the easiest decision I've made," said Joseph Scavone, 74, who went to the polls with his wife Betty Lou Scavone, 66, and voted straight Republican. "The last time I voted for a Democrat was for Kennedy... a long time ago."
The couple, who have called Collier home for 19 years, said that everyone they know would be voting today.
And if their acquaintances even consider skipping out, watch out.
"They better get their butts out here," said a chuckling Betty Lou Scavone.
A steady stream of voters arrived at St. John The Evangelist Life Center off Immokalee Road in Naples to cast their votes.
A rush of voters came between 7 and 7:30 p.m. with a stable attendance throughout the rest of the morning. As one voter drove away wearing their "I voted today" sticker, another soon-to-be voter parked in their space, keeping the church's parking lot constantly full.
A need for change brought many out to vote today.
"I think it's the most important elections to date," said Howard Coleman, a 25-year resident of Naples and a tea party member, "We need to change who's running the country and this is the way to do it."
"I want to see less opposition and fighting," said Cindy Renner, a Democrat. "I came to vote for candidates who will work together to make a change."
For others, like Lisette Brunckhorst, voting in today's election was about getting in the habit of voting.
"I figured I should start getting used to being involved and using my vote to make a difference," said 23-year-old Brunckhorst, who only voted once before, in the 2008 presidential election.
There were many different reasons for coming out to vote, but one thing was clear.
"From what I've seen, this is the largest turnout for a midterm election in recent years," said Sally Fredrick, a long-time volunteer worker for the Democratic Party, "I think it has to do with all the local things on the ballot, and people are concerned about local issues."
Polls at Vineyards Community Park were busy around 11:30 a.m., for precincts 312, 317 and 343.
It was a popular place for candidates to campaign for themselves, with Roy Terry and Rosanne Winter sitting side by side holding signs for their School Board campaigns. Beside them stood Larry Wilcoxson, campaigning for himself for state representative in district 101. He had already been to three other precincts in the morning.
Stuck in the ground around them were signs for Matt Hudson, Larry Wilcoxson and Rick Scott for governor.
Husband and wife Carolyn and Paul Haynes were at the polling site handing out information on behalf of the Collier County Republicans. They arrived at 7:30 a.m. and plan to stay until they have to leave for a meeting at 6:30 p.m.
"I have passed out 75 fliers so far and I made 200," Carolyn Haynes said. "Since we got here hundreds of people have gone by."
Voters began lining up at 6:30 a.m. at the Bonita Springs Recreational Center in Bonita Springs. But after the polls opened at 7 a.m., voting went slow and steady in the morning, with little or not wait time for voters.
Voters were glad to see no lines. Some tried to do early voting several times, but left because there were crowds whenever they came.
One time when Bonita Springs resident Judy Kelly tried to vote early, there were 50 other people in line, she said.
She voted Tuesday instead.
"This was great," she said. "It's much better than I thought."
JoAnn Finn, another Bonita Springs resident at the polling site, agreed. She tried to early vote four times before giving up and showing up at the polls early Tuesday.
"This is the place to vote, I'll tell you," she said, with a smile. "These people are so nice."
Arnold C. Salley, who came to the poll site a little later in the morning, was happy to see no lines too. "It was beautiful - in and out - other than the ballot was a little lengthy," he said.
Come rain or shine, it's a battle until the end for fire district commissioner in Bonita Springs.
"We don't have firefighters on our side," Alex Grantt said as he passed out fliers bearing his name, Pat McCourt and Robert Sharkey's to voters walking into the Bonita Springs YMCA.
This is Grantt's district, so after voting at 7 a.m., Grantt set up his campaign site.
Though Grantt has been dressed in black slacks, white button-down, black suspenders with a blue and white umbrella clutched in his non- campaigning hand and out in front of the 157th district since 7 a.m. Meanwhile, volunteers supporting Grantt's opposition, Edward Fitzgerald, Evans Conforti, and Frank Liles, were at the site.
The morning rain didn't cool their fire, as one side fears job cuts, and another believes cuts are necessary.
"They can't pull the fire helmet over my eyes," said Grantt after a brief tiff with firefighters that have been standing in the rain handing out fliers while dressed red, white and blue shirts bearing the names of their friends: Fitzgerald, Liles, and Conforti.
Come 7 p.m. the battle is over a victor will be named.
Voters at the Norris Community Center in downtown Naples this morning said their polling place wasn't very busy, and voting was going smoothly.
When asked, many voters said they were voting Republican this year, but did not specify why.
One person was turned away this morning after he went to the wrong polling place. He was directed to the right polling place, and declined to be interviewed.
Signs at Naples City Hall - across the street from the Norris Center and an early voting location - informed voters there would be no voting at the location on Election Day, and asked voters to head to their precinct to cast their votes.
Though Rick Scott pulled 63-year-old Rob Growth's vote, the former attorney for a Minnesota energy firm said it was a tough choice.
Scott's troubles as a CEO made him uneasy as did the fact that Scott's first attempt at running for a public office was his bid for governor.
But Sink just didn't convince him that she would be the best choice.
"Even if I wasn't crazy about some of the people I voted for, like Scott, I cited against any establishment candidate," Growth said. "It's just one of those years that we've got to send a message."
Should Scott win today, Growth said he hopes he does something good for the state. Otherwise, next time around Growth will vote for another newcomer.
Amy Hunter, 33, said she is tired of the non-stop political messages coming across her TV.
"I'm over it," she said. "I'm tired of seeing Rick Scott's mom say he's a good guy. My mom would say the same thing about me."
This year's Senate race divided one Democratic household.
Jill Erickson, 58, voted for her party's candidate Kendrick Meek, even though his numbers were polling so low that a win is unlikely.
"I view Crist as a spoiler like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader," she said of Gov. Charlie Crist's move out of the Republican Party to run as an independent when polls showed Republicans were leaning toward Marco Rubio. "I don't want to support politics like that."
Charles Erickson, 54 and "a Democrat at heart but a registered Republican" so he can vote in local primaries, cast his ballot for Crist.
"It was a tough decision," he said, "but Rubio is so conservative I couldn't stomach him. Meek I don't think could win."
Polling places in downtown quiet this morning.
There are no campaign workers outside any of the three downtown Naples polling places - the Norris Center, the River Park Community Center and a polling place on the city's campus on Riverside Circle - and there is a slow trickle of people turning out to vote.
Despite the rain, humidity and a number of people at the wrong precinct, by 8:30 a.m. nearly 50 people came out to vote at the Bonita Springs Community Hall, which has been transformed into the 80th precinct.
For some this voting season means one thing, change.
"This country needs change desperately," said Patty Milford, who came out to vote with her daughter.
"Republicans all the way, we need to get something going here. Democrats have done too much."
Echoing her mother's sentiments, JoAnn Paulus believes change is vital to improving the dismal job market.
"We need change, people need jobs, work," said Paulus. "People are without work, no way a U.S. citizen shouldn't have a job."
Voters at one precinct in Collier County are having a problem this morning. The computers at Precinct 155 at Edison State College are down and the line of voters is growing. The computer problem is also causing some delays at the East Naples Community Park precincts.
What started out as six voters is now a couple dozen as election officials try to scramble to get the problem fixed.
The computers are needed to verify voter's addresses and calculate the votes.
Tim Durham, chief deputy elections supervisor, said a campus-wide computer problem has affected the electronic voter check-in systems at Edison State College.
"That really shouldn't stop voters from voting," Durham said.
He said the computerized voting machines are working and they have paper backup.
The number of voters walking through the doors at the Golden Gate Community Center has died down, but campaign volunteers are starting to trickle in to support their candidate.
A volunteer for Matt Hudson's campaign has been here since before the polls opened, and is thanking voters for voting as they walk back to their cars.
Collier school board candidate Rosanne Winter also has a representative out waving a sign as voters walk to the polling place.
Statewide Democratic candidates also have a representative here in one Spanish speaking man. He's covered in stickers for gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, US Senate candidate Kendrick Meek and House candidate Joe Garcia.
Poll workers have been greeting voters all morning with cheerful good mornings, and directing them to their polling sections.
State Rep. Matt Hudson walked onto the sidewalk in front of the community center at Max Hasse park in Golden Gate Estates in the pre-dawn darkness, a cup of Starbucks in one hand and a campaign sign in the other.
"No one can see the sign but anyway," said Hudson, on the ballot today to keep his Republican seat in the state Legislature.
About 20 voters were waiting in line for the polls to open this morning, and a steady stream of cars have been pulling into the parking lot.
Hudson has stood for election six times, as fire commissioner and as state representative, and every Election Day he spends at Max Hasse, his home precinct. He has never lost.
"Why tempt fate?" he said. "I'm really hoping someone will refill my coffee at some point."
A steady stream of voters has walked through the doors of the Golden Gate Community Center since polls opened at 7 a.m. The community center houses two polling places, and both have been active since opening.
While campaign volunteers are active throughout Collier County getting their candidate's name out, there is only one volunteer at the community center.
Election officials in Lee and Collier counties are prepared for a busy day at polling stations Tuesday after high participation in early voting set the stage for a strong turnout in this year’s midterm election.
Voter turnout for the 2010 general election will reach 60 percent to 65 percent, predicted Tim Durham, chief deputy for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Lee elections officials also expect a strong turnout, while not offering up a specific prediction.
Their expectations are based, in part, on the number of votes cast during early voting from Oct. 18-30.
By the time polling stations closed Saturday night for early voting, 36,871 ballots had been cast in Lee County and 29,266 in Collier. That compares with 21,974 in Lee and 21,158 in Collier in the 2006 election, when 47 percent of Collier’s registered voters cast ballots and 47.7 percent of Lee’s did.
The early voting numbers are an impressive spike for midterm turnout in the two Republican-dominated counties, though the figures were tens of thousands of votes short of early voting results in the 2008 presidential election.
Southwest Florida elections officials said they also have been flooded with absentee ballots.
As of noon Monday, Lee County elections officials had received back more than 42,000 absentee ballots out of the 56,000 requested.
“And we know there’s buckets that haven’t come in yet,” said Sharon Harrington, Lee County’s supervisor of elections.
Collier County had received back about 27,000 absentee ballots of the 38,000 requested.
By law, Harrington said, election officials have to be ready for 100 percent turnout. Realistically, she said, it would be hard to accurately predict turnout. However, due to tight statewide elections, she expected a strong showing in Lee County.
In Collier County, Durham was confident that as many as 55,000 voters could cast ballots.
Here are some of the highlights of Tuesday’s ballot choices in Southwest Florida, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m:
■ Governor: Republican Rick Scott; Democrat Alex Sink; Peter Allen; C.C. Reed; Daniel Imperato; Michael Arth; Farid Khavari; Josue Larose.
■ U.S. Senate: Republican Marco Rubio; Democrat Kendrick Meek; no-party affiliated candidate Charlie Crist: Alexander Snitker; Bernie DeCastro; Bobbie Bean; Lewis Armstrong; Sue Askeland; Bruce Ray Riggs; Rick Tyler; Richard Lock; Piotr Blass; George Drake; Howard Knepper; Carol Ann Joyce LaRosa; Robert Monroe; Belinda Gail Quarterman-Noah.
■ Two Congressional seats with the U.S. House 25 race between frontrunners David Rivera, a Republican, and Joe Garcia, a Democrat. In U.S. District 14, Republican Connie Mack faces Democrat James Roach and no-party affiliation candidate William St. Claire.
■ Several amendments to the Florida constitution, including whether to change maximum class-size requirements (Amendment 8) and a Hometown Democracy measure (Amendment 4) that would require citizen votes on comprehensive plan changes.
■ Cabinet races for Florida attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.
■ Four state legislative contests with districts that cover a part of either Lee or Collier counties, or portions of both. House District 112 candidates are Republican Jeanette Nuñez and Democrat Sandra Ruiz, along with Robert Van Name, a no-party affiliated candidate. House District 75 features Republican incumbent Trudi Williams against no-party affiliated candidate Stephen Cosgrove. House District 101 features Republican incumbent Matt Hudson against no-party affiliated candidate Larry Wilcoxson and in Senate District 27, Democrat Kevin Rader against Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto.
■ Three Collier School Board nonpartisan races. In District 1, incumbent Pat Carroll faces Rosanne Winter. In District 3, Barbara Berry faces Kathy Ryan. In Collier School Board District 5, appointed board member Roy Terry faces Joe Whitehead.
■ Collier Commission District 2 voters will choose Republican Georgia Hiller, who is on the ballot, or write in the name of challenger Chuck Roth.
■ Seats in three Collier County fire districts — East Naples, Immokalee and Big Corkscrew Island.
■ A seat on the Collier mosquito control board and one on the soil and water conservation district board.
■ In precincts that aren’t within Naples or Marco Island, voters have a say in a straw ballot about fire district consolidation. East Naples residents have a second, differently worded straw ballot question on the same issue.
■ Golden Gate Estates area residents have a straw ballot on a shopping center.
■ Three Lee County Commission seats — District 1 appointed member John Manning against Carla Johnston; District 2 incumbent Brian Bigelow against Debbie Jordan and District 4 incumbent Tammy Hall against Debbie Jackow.
■ Lee County School Board District 1 Arnold Gibbs against Mary Fischer.
■ Lee County judge nonpartisan race between Frank Mann Jr. and Miguel Fernandez.
■ Three seats on the Bonita Springs fire board and two on Estero’s fire commission.
■ Seats on the Lee Memorial Hospital Board. There are 14 candidates, including three incumbents, running for five seats.