Osceola County residents hit the polls for early sales tax voting

Osceola County residents are already heading to the polls to cast ballots on a 1 percent sales tax increase proposal after early voting began Monday.  

If approved, the revenue would go toward an umbrella of transportation-related projects, including roadwork, improved intersections, bike lanes, sidewalks, walking trails, Lynx and – beginning in 2021 – SunRail.

It would last 30 years and increase the total sales tax rate from 7.5 to 8.5 percent.

It is expected to generate $67 million annually.

This is Osceola’s first countywide special election since 1999, said Kari Ewalt, community relations manager with the Osceola Supervisor of Elections.

As of Wednesday morning, 1,686 residents had already cast early voting ballots.

The St. Cloud Civic Center has proved to be the busiest of the county’s seven early voting locations, Ewalt said.

Resident Eileen Keating was one voter who visited the popular location Monday after work to cast her ballot.

Keating, along with many other early voters, said they enjoy the quick and easy method.

“I walked right in and out. It was super convenient,” she said. “I wanted to assure I cast my vote when I had the chance in case something came up on the 21st - and to beat any potential crowds.”

Vote by mail has also proved popular this election, with 50,665 ballots mailed out and already 20,780 – or 41 percent – returned to the SOE office by Wednesday, Ewalt said.

There are four to six poll workers at each location helping this week. In March, Ewalt said the special election was expected to cost roughly $200,000 but noted this week that final costs won’t be known until after Election Day.

A hiccup with sample ballots caused some confusion last week when some voters received postcards with incorrect polling places printed on them.

According to Ewalt, the mistake was a printing error.

She said the postcards were physically loaded into the machine incorrectly, causing many to have the wrong information.

The day they hit mailboxes, SOE staff realized what had happened, and made the printer pay to re-print and mail new ones.

Ewalt said SOE is also sending out a bright yellow mailer with polling location information to try to make sure no one is confused about where to go on Election Day.

Ewalt encouraged people to call the SOE office with any questions.

Other than some residents calling to confirm polling locations, Ewalt said it’s pretty much been business as usual at the SOE office.

“Typically, we have to bring in extra staff to handle phone calls and we haven’t had to do that this time,” she said.

Early polling locations are open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sunday.  Election Day is May 21.  Below are polling locations for early voting:

Supervisor of Elections Office, at 2509 E. U.S. Highway, 192, Kissimmee.

West Osceola Branch Library (Celebration), at 305 Campus St., Celebration.

Robert Guevara Center, at 501 Florida Parkway, Kissimmee.

St. Cloud Civic Center, at 3001 17th St., St. Cloud.

Hart Memorial Central Library, at 211 E. Dakin Avenue, Kissimmee.

The Gym & Aquatic Center, at 625 Country Club Drive, Poinciana.

Osceola Campus- Valencia College, at 1800 Denn John Lane, Kissimmee.