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Sandra Delgado waited for Monday for a long time.
When it finally arrived, she sat at her desk in the Supervisor of Elections Office, where she works as a customer service representative, watching the clock, her driver license sitting next to her on her desk.
About 10 a.m., Delgado got up, walked across the room to the early voting booth, presented her driver license and received her ballot — her first since becoming an American citizen last year. It also was the first ballot cast at the Supervisor of Elections' Office as early voting opened to Collier voters Monday.
"This is a significant moment for me," she said. "Exercising my right to vote, it's so important, especially because of where I come from."
Delgado, 35, came to the United States six years ago from Cuba. She became a citizen in August 2011.
Cuban elected officials must be members of the Communist Party and are approved by both the Communist Party and the Cuban government, according to Jaime Suchlicki, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami.
"We are able to vote for what we want (in the United States) ... I have been waiting for this day for so long," Delgado said. "And I would encourage all voters to come out and vote."
Marcia Herrera, a customer service representative with the Supervisor of Elections Office, said she knows how Delgado feels. Herrera came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1973.
"She knows the meaning of freedom," Herrera said of Delgado. "It's very exciting. I know how important this is to her."
Delgado has worked for the Supervisor of Elections Office since October as a diplomat — someone who helps get people registered to vote at community events like the county fair or farmers' markets.
"She's a nice young lady. She's very good with outreach. She's motivated. She wants to learn," said Cyndi Young, voter outreach coordinator for the Supervisor of Elections Office. "She helped do mock elections in Golden Gate for some of our outreach events. It's neat to see her do it for real."
About eight minutes after she walked in to vote, Delgado left the voting booth to cheers and applause from her co-workers and congratulations from voters waiting to cast their early ballots.
"I am so proud of her," said Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards. "I know this is very meaningful for her."
Delgado wouldn't say if there was a particular race she was more interested in, but her smile said it all about her experience.
"I have been waiting for this for so long," she said. "I am very proud to vote. I wanted to be the first to vote. It was very important to me."
Delgado, who graduated this year from Edison State College with degrees in criminal justice and crime scene technician, said she hopes to cast the first ballot in the November general election, too.
Eligible voters in Collier County can begin casting their votes today at any of the county’s seven early voting sites.
Those sites are:
■ Everglades City Hall, 102 Copeland Ave. N.;
■ Naples City Hall, 735 8th St. S.;
■ Supervisor of Elections Office, 3295 U.S. 41 E.;
■ Golden Gate Library, 2432 Lucerne Road;
■ Immokalee Library, 417 N. First St.;
■ Library Headquarters, 2385 Orange Blossom Drive;
■ Marco Island Library, 210 S. Heathwood Drive.
Early voting is offered from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Early voting ends in Collier on Saturday, Aug. 11.