By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - Early voting starts on Saturday, Oct. 27. The barricades should be gone in front of the old courthouse and the absentee ballots in mailboxes.
Those ballots were delayed this year. If the absentee ballots still aren't in mailboxes, Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall said voters can feel free to hit early-voting sites and discard the absentee ballots when they arrive.
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus said streetscape work in front of the Volusia County Historic Courthouse, an early voting site, will be far enough along that crews can open access to the building's main entrance on New York Avenue.
"We are definitely scheduled to be substantially complete on the north side by the 27th," he said in a phone interview. "It's a good break point for the project."
Ms. McFall said her years on the Volusia County Council and School Board make her skeptical. She said unanticipated events, and some that should be anticipated, frequently affect construction timetables.
"I'll be satisfied when I see the barriers being removed," she said in a separate phone interview.
At its Oct. 1 meeting, the DeLand City Commission got an earful from a handful of residents about construction in front of the elections office that started at the end of August. They told the commission the timing was awkward for folks trying to do business with the elections department at the height of a contentious election season.
"The visual power of this blockade in front of the (elections office) - there's a statement there," Susan Dupree told the city commission during public-comment time.
Mr. Pleus said the city was coordinating the project with the state Department of Transportation, which is picking up most of the tab, and was subject to its calendar. The project, approved by the commission last year, will cost about $800,000. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency is paying about $250,000 of that. Construction will likely last until the beginning of 2013, and come in two phases - the north and then south sides of New York.
He said discussions with Ms. McFall, after the citizen complaints, shifted plans and work on the south side of New York will be held off until after Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Ms. McFall said 58,000 people took advantage of early voting in the 2008 elections.
"That's 14,000 people going to each site," she said. "That's 14,000 in downtown DeLand (over) eight days. That's a lot."
She said her indigestion over the untimely streetscape won't be over until the election is decided and any legal challenges done.
"I could hear 'voter suppression, voter suppression,'" she said.
Mr. Pleus said the city contacted the elections office to give it a chance to discuss construction dates ahead of time, but the office never responded. Ms. McFall said there were questions about the legal proprieties of discussions between her office and the city that she had to discuss with the county attorney to avoid accidental violations of elections laws.
In an unrelated matter, absentee ballots were sent late. For the first time, the supervisor of elections office outsourced printing and mailing absentee ballots. The company it hired, Advance Ballot Solutions of Clearwater, delayed mailing 45,000 to 50,000 absentee ballots earlier this month. When it mailed them, it improperly routed the ballots through the U.S. Postal Service's Tampa regional office, rather than Orlando, causing more delays.
"The Department of Elections has taken back the responsibility of absentee ballot distribution," Ms. McFall said in a press release. "There are no excuses for poor service."
In an e-mail response to questions, she said that voters who haven't received absentee ballots can call for another, or vote at the polls during early or regular voting.
"Your absentee ballot order will be canceled and an early voting ballot will be issued," Ms. McFall said.
Early voting locations are at the historic courthouse, 125 W. New York Ave., the Deltona Regional Library, 2150 Eustace Ave., the Volusia County Library at City Island, 105 E. Magnolia Ave., Daytona Beach, the Ormond Beach Regional Library, 30 S. Beach St., and the New Smyrna Beach Regional Library, 1001 S. Dixie Freeway.
Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.