WEST PALM BEACH — Rosie the service dog was first in line at Palm Beach County's Military Trail polling station Saturday morning, accompanied by owner Alan Tiffenberg and his wife, Diana. The Loxahatchee couple and their pet pup arrived at 9 a.m., a full hour before early voting in the Florida presidential preference primary got underway. There was a candidate they felt strongly about, but said they would have taken advantage of the early polling in any event.
"Always," said Alan Tiffenberg. During regular voting. "The poll stations are always so busy," said Diana.
Saturday marked the first of eight days of early voting in the hotly contested Republican presidential primary. The primary election day is Jan. 31.
"It doesn't look real exciting - yet," said Tami Donnally of the small line of about five waiting to cast ballots at the Supervisor of Elections office. Donnally, Palm Beach County chair for the Gingrich campaign, was setting out campaign signs, but also planned to vote early. So did Gingrich supporter Marisol Guntowski of St. Lucie County. It will be the first ballot cast by Guntowski, a Costa Rica native who recently was awarded full U.S. citizenship.
They may be in the minority. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said that while 44.91 percent of the county's GOP voters cast ballots in the last presidential primary, only 5.69 percent voted early. Still, Bucher said, there's been a lot of energy associated with the primary contest - and she has cast a targeted net to capture Republican voters. This year, polling stations have been set up in areas with larger numbers of registered Republicans. In Boca Raton, for instance, the polling station is at City Hall, where there was a "much higher" portion of Republicans.
Early voting has not been without controversy. A new law slashes the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. Supporters have praised the move, part of a package of new voting laws, as a curb on voter fraud. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed suit to block it.
Palm Beach County set early voting records in 2008's general election, with a record-breaking 150,000 casting ballots ahead of election day.
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Both sides quizzed the whittled-down group of prospective jurors about whether they had fired guns, made judgments based on how people dressed or had been neighborhood watch volunteers themselves.