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COLUMN

Happytown: Ugly campaigning and early voting

Plakon campaign takes flak for Sandusky mailer; despite attempts to thwart early voting, people showed up in droves to cast their ballots

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So we plan to hold Plakon accountable for statements he made to the Sentinel about this mailer and others like it, which help make political campaigning the dirty, despicable activity it's become, especially in recent years. Plakon said that he thinks this situation underscores the need for the Legislature to change campaign-finance law, so anonymous organizations can't issue irresponsible and underhanded attacks. "This stuff is out of hand," the Sentinel quoted him as saying. "This is exhibit A of why the process needs to be reformed."

So if you're returning to Tallahassee after this election, Plakon, that's going to be your first order of business, right? We thought so. We'll follow up with you in January.

The next order of business we hope somebody addresses in Tally next session: The early-voting clusterfuck Gov. Rick Scott created when he reduced the state's number of early voting days from 14 to a mere eight this year. If you tried voting early in this election, there's a good chance you waited in a long line to cast your ballot. Early-voting locations from Alafaya to Winter Park reported massive lines all week long, with some determined voters waiting as many as two to three hours to make sure their voices were heard in this election.

Making matters worse at one early-voting polling place was the matter of a couple of "suspicious" packages. Police were called to the scene to examine a very suspect insulated lunch tote that contained some unspecified electronics and other stuff. A bomb squad was called out and couldn't find any evidence of explosives, but police decided to err on the side of extreme caution. They closed the polling place and blew that shit right up. Then they had a bomb-sniffing dog search the premises, and when the dog was attracted to a bag of garbage it found outside, they blew that shit up, too.

Hundreds of frustrated voters, some of whom couldn't even leave because their cars were cordoned off in the area being investigated by police, spent the afternoon gathered on the library grounds. A few complained that they weren't being given any information by poll workers, and others said they thought police overreacted. One woman even told a reporter that she thought this was an attempt to deter people from voting. Another young woman, who said this was her first-ever time voting, said she'd never vote again after encountering this frightening debacle.

Fortunately, early-voter turnout this season was high despite the obstacles. Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles reported that, as of the close of business on Nov. 4, 127,583 early-voting ballots had been cast – 66,674 by Democrats, 34,113 by Republicans, 26,796 by people registered with other or no parties. In Seminole County, 66,719 people took advantage of early voting (with a nearly equal number of Democrats and Republicans turning up at early polling places), and according to that county's Supervisor of Elections, Mike Ertel, combined with the number of absentee ballots filed in advance of the election, 41 percent of the county's voting population had cast a ballot by Nov. 4. If that's not a testament to the popularity and success of early voting, we don't know what is.

Memo to Gov. Scott: The people – in both parties – want early voting, and it's insanely un-Democratic of you to intentionally deprive them of it.

Memo to the Winter Park police: Bomb-sniffing dogs may have special training, but they are still dogs. Sometimes they stop by garbage bags just because they like the smell of garbage.

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