Clay County residents line up for first day of early voting


ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Crowds were out Friday as nine days of early voting began in Clay County. The supervisor of elections said 5,852 votes were cast at the county's six early voting sites on opening day.

Lines spilled into the parking lot at the Orange Park branch of the Clay County Library. With the parking lot full, people had to park at a restaurant across the street.

Voters like Julie and Chuck Smithers came out wearing "I voted early" stickers.

Julie and Chuck Smithers, Voting Early
"We couldn't wait to come, so we are going to brave the crowds," Julie Smithers said. "We think it's really important. I can't emphasize it enough, people need to get out and vote regardless of who you're for. After all, voting is such a basic right that we have. We really need to talk this up."

Early voting has grown in popularity since it began in Florida 16 years ago, and all indications are that this could be a record year -- at least for a midterm election.

In Clay County, early voting has increased from 18,425 in 2010 to 19,080 in 2014. Two years ago, in a presidential general election, 54,529 people in Clay County voted at an early voting site.

EARLY VOTING: When, where to vote before Election Day
VOTER'S GUIDE: All the races on the ballot in NE Florida/SE Georgia

"It's a very good sign," Chuck Smither said. "The first time Obama ran, the line was out the door. It was all the way down, across the parking lot. It's not quite as big (today), but it's impressive for a midterm. Very happy for it."

Other voters share the same sentiment, saying they don't mind the line.

"I thought it was going to be a quick and easy, in and out. But I think it's a great thing to see the American people voting," Eddey Matthieu said.

Navy veteran George Whittenberg not only voted Friday, but spent part of the day holding a campaign sign outside the library hoping to sway others to vote.

"It's important to me because I spent time in Vietnam fighting for the freedom," Whittenberg said. "It's important because we can decide who governs us without having to go to battle."

Other voters say it's not just who they are voting for, but what they are voting for.

"Each of the amendments contains multiple subjects, and it makes them difficult to decide," David Elmore said. "They contain a little good and a little bad, and you have to weigh them all to decide which way to go."

Early voting in Clay County and most counties in the state ends on Nov. 3. Duval County residents can vote early through Nov. 4.

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