MARCO ISLAND — The election is underway. While the official election day doesn't happen until Tuesday, August 14, early voting commenced on Monday morning on Marco at the island's library branch, and will run through August 11.
Voting in Rose Hall at the library is open to all Collier County residents, not just those voters living on Marco Island. Each voter, according to his or her precinct, has a ballot reflecting the local issues, and all are available at the Marco Island early voting site, as well as at the other six locations throughout the county.
"We call it 'ballot on demand.' The individual ballot is printed on the spot for that voter's requirements," said Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards. Altogether, she said, there are 224 different ballot styles for this election in the various areas of Collier County.
The current election, in many ways, is just a warm-up for the general election coming in November. Then, the ballot choices will include offices from President of the United States, down to four city council seats on the island, among many others.
Marco Island has two ballot questions unique to the island's voters, depending on where the individual voter lives. All island residents have the chance to weigh in on a nonbinding straw poll on whether local residents should pay to subsidize a 24-hour emergency medical facility.
Hideaway Beach voters have an additional choice to make. Their ballots will include a provision for Hideaway Beach residents to decide whether to keep the Hideaway Beach Special Tax District, and give it the power to levy taxes to "improve, renourish, preserve, maintain, monitor and provide public access to the beach property located within the boundaries of the district." The district was set up by a referendum in 2004, with a provision that it would sunset in 10 years.
And since Florida is a closed primary state, some races are only open to members of one political party. Republicans, who hold a dominant share of voter registrations in Collier County, with a more than two to one edge in voter registrations, and even more so on Marco Island, will choose from among candidates for several Federal, state and local offices in which winning the Republican nomination is tantamount to winning the election outright.
Incumbent Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala squares off against challenger Steve Cosgrove. Incumbents including Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, and Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock face contested primaries.
Four candidates vie for the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in the general election. U.S. Representative Connie Mack, stepping down to vie for the Senate seat, has six Republican hopefuls attempting to win the nomination for his Congressional seat. On Wednesday afternoon, two Byron Donalds for Congress campaign volunteers were the only candidate advocates visible outside the 100-foot "no solicitation zone" surrounding the polling place.
Technology has changed voting, and Edwards demonstrated on Wednesday afternoon the Department of Elections smartphone app for mobile devices. This allows voters to check their registration status, and the status of their ballot if they choose to vote by mail, and to request an absentee ballot. It tells them what precinct to vote at on Election Day, and has a continuously updated display of wait times at early voting locations.
For the current election, wait time has consistently showed as "less than 15 minutes" for all early polling locations. On Marco Island, there has been essentially no waiting necessary, for this midsummer election with a lack of hot-button issues.
The electronic records are guarded with a train of accountability, and transmitted along with the paper ballots to the Supervisor of Elections office by a uniformed security guard. But at the close of voting, poll workers still collect the ballots and literally "stuff" them into a ballot box – all according to the rules.
Collier County is one of five Florida counties issued a Federal subpoena for records of how voters were removed for not meeting citizenship criteria. Edwards said the action, undertaken statewide, resulted in 26 individuals being removed from voter rolls in Collier County.
Edwards drew no opponent, and therefore will continue in her post as Supervisor of Elections without having to go through running for re-election.
Marco resident Phyllis Pransky, exiting the polling place with her sticker to show she had voted, said she prefers voting in person.
"Coming out to vote gets you with people. I feel more like I count when I'm on the premises," she said.
Pransky said she had invested some time to understand the races, looking into the low-profile candidates down the ballot to make an informed decision. Like two other voters asked the question, she said she had voted against the local 24-hour emergency clinic.
In all, 447 voters had cast their ballots on Marco Island via early voting through Wednesday, August 1. Throughout Collier County, the total was 2,935, below 2010 levels but more than the 2008 tally.
Absentee ballots are also available, with August 8 the last day to request one from the Supervisor of Elections office.