Voters heading to Orange County’s Southwest Branch Library in are encountering occasional parking challenges as children’s programs and other activities close parking, and Republicans are expressing concerns that hundreds might be turning away from the early-voting site in Doctor Phillips.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he is aware of the complaints from voters who find the library’s parking lot closed off to voters for several hours a day. But he said the county was doing all it could, starting with setting up a secondary parking site across the street in a shopping center, the Marketplace at Doctor Phillips. The effort is complete with plenty of signage, a parking lot attendant advising voters to park across the street, two nine-person golf carts shuttling voters to and fro, and an Orange County deputy sheriff directing traffic.

Still, the trek from the shopping center parking lot to the voting booths involves a trek, by foot or golf cart, across a busy, divided five-lane boulevard, Doctor Philips Bouelvard, and up about a block up Della Drive to get to the library’s entrance.

Two observers who spend hours at the site waiving signs for the Republican Party, Harry Shaffer and Samantha Surdin, said they have seen hundreds of cars turn away and possibly leave because they could not get into the library branch’s parking lot. Orange County Republican Chairman Charles Hart expressed concern Thursday that Republican voters are being most affected, because the Doctor Phillips community is among the most Republican-rich regions in Orange County.

Southwest Branch Library, 7255 Della Drive, is one of 16 sites in Orange County for early voting, which started on Monday and runs through Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cowles said that the library is reserving the parking lot for library patrons during certain activites including a popular childrens’ story time program, though voting is continuing all day every day in the branch’s community room. There are times, from 9 to 10 a.m. and on Sundays, when the library is closed, except to voters, so that voters should be able to park there and vote without problems, he advised. Voters also can visit any of the other early-voting sites in Orange County.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Cowles said.

And yet in spite of the parking issues, the Southwest Branch Library is the county’s busiest early-voting location so far, he said. On Monday 1,083 votes were cast there; 1,171 on Tuesday, 1,185 on Wednesday, and 862 through mid-afternoon Thursday. That puts it well ahead of the county’s second-busiest site, the Alafaya Branch Library in east Orange County.

Unfortunately, the county has very limited options. Cowles said the next closest location that meets all the legal qualifications for an early-voting site is the Orange County Convention Center, where parking and walking problems would be far worse.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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