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Mail-ins strong as primary election day approaches

April 17, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Mail ballot returns are strong while early voting at the seven Lee County locations has remained slow for the special Republican Primary for Congressional District 19.

As of Thursday morning, less than 4,000 registered voters had turned up at the polls to vote early despite the shorter lines and longer hours, according to Sharon Harrington, Lee County Supervisor of Elections.

Meanwhile, 25,770 mail-in ballots of the 36,395 requested have already been turned in, a 71 percent rate with four days remaining until Election Day.

The deadline for mail-in ballots is the same as for Election Day, 7 p.m. on Tuesday. They can be dropped off at the main office only.

"Overall, we get a much better return on mail ballots that going to polls. Early voting is a little slower, but we have it spread around so the individual sites are pretty busy for a special election," Harrington said.

Harrington said the overwhelming number of mail-in ballots is three-fold. People are gun shy after 2012, voters received notices by mail to let them know the election was coming and enclosed a ballot-request form, and voters don't have to pay postage.

"I don't want to push people to use it. If it's sitting there and you don't have to run out for a stamp, you'll be more than likely to use it rather than get dressed and go to the polling place," Harrington said.

Harrington said after such a harsh winter, many voters have been in no hurry to go home.

"We don't see a mass exodus before Easter and they're still getting nasty weather up there," Harrington said. "We sent many of them to their residences down here, with the June and August elections going up there."

Early voting in the closed primary continues today and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Among the locations are two in Cape Coral: the Cape Coral Public Library, 921 Sw 39th Ter., and the Cape Coral-Elections Office, 1031 Se 9th Pl., #3, Cape Coral

The Republican primary candidates are Lizbeth Benacquisto, Curt Clawson, Michael Dreikhorn and Paige Kreegel.

Benacquisto cast her vote late in the morning Thursday at the Cape Coral Library.

"I'm so excited to have voted this morning. I feel like I've been involved in the democratic process and that I voted for the best candidate," Benacquisto said. "We're not affiliated with SuperPACs. Our campaign is spreading out a positive message and it's resonating."

She was not the only candidate to express concern about "SuperPAC"?money.

Clawson said he didn't anticipate the venom that would come from what he called the "SuperPAC Hit Squads."

"We were getting hit by a SuperPACS for two weeks without responding, and a second one started shooting SCUDs, and we tried to run a positive campaign, but we couldn't with these hit squads out," Clawson said in a telephone interview. "We had to respond. If people were turned off, I can relate. Nobody likes this level of negativity."

In an earlier interview, Kreegel took a similar view, saying he feared negative campaign ads would keep voters home.

"Special elections typically have lower voter turnouts, as is. Add to that the fact that most voters are so turned off by all of the negative advertising and I believe that we will see an unprecedentedly low number of people showing up at the polls," Kreegel said in a statement via e-mail.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Neatherwood as well as write-in candidate Timothy Rossano in the June 24 special election. Early voting will go from June 14-21, same times, same locations.

As soon as that election ends, another begins. Aug. 26 is the day of the regular primary election, with the general election set for Nov. 4.

The importance of voting is not lost on any of the candidates.

"Voting is the highest responsibility we have. We get the government we deserve and we have to educate ourselves on the candidates and the issues," Dreikhorn said in an earlier interview.



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