10 cities in Pinellas say no to early voting in March election

Municipal elections are on tap in 10 Pinellas County towns in early March, but early voting enthusiasts won't have their preferred option.

A variety of reasons may be in play, from poor communication among officials to past decisions by individual cities not to take part in early voting, but officials stressed cost as the chief culprit.

According to Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for the supervisor of elections, a state law took effect on Jan. 1, 2006, that says cities may offer early voting before their elections, but aren't required to do so.

When city elections were held in March 2006, Whitlock said, the county provided early voting, but because of an "oversight," failed to charge any expense to the cities.

After that, and consistent with state law, Whitlock said cities were told they would have to pay the cost of early voting unless county, state or federal offices were also on the ballot.

As contracts between cities and the supervisor's office were developed for the upcoming municipal elections, local leaders were unwilling to pay the cost, she said.

"When the cities had to start paying for it, they decided against it," Whitlock said. "There just seemed to be a consensus."

Whitlock did not have specific figures for the costs involved, but said cities would have to pay for county staff time and to have ballots printed for early voting, which, when it does take place, happens in the two weeks before Election Day.

Brad Purdy, public communications manager for Safety Harbor, which has an election in March, echoed Whitlock, saying money was the reason the city hadn't requested early voting.

"I like early voting as much as the next person," Purdy said. "But when you look at our budget, we are trying to save money anywhere we can."

Municipal elections are also scheduled in Belleair, Belleair Bluffs, Dunedin, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Oldsmar, Redington Beach and Seminole. Oldsmar also has an annexation referendum on its ballot.

Oldsmar city clerk Lisa Lene said her city had passed an ordinance in 2004 opting out of early voting unless the supervisor's office assumed all "statutory and administrative" responsibilities involved.

Officials in Dunedin and Gulfport were unable Wednesday to determine precisely what motivated the decision not to seek early voting in the election, which will be held March 10.

"The council approved the election contract," said Lesley Demuth, Gulfport's city clerk. "And the contract says no early voting."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

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fast facts

An option instead of early voting

Although early voting isn't an option for the upcoming municipal elections March 10, voters can still ask for an absentee ballot, which can be filled out beforehand but won't get counted until Election Day. Voters can have an absentee ballot mailed to them by calling (727) 464-6788. Absentees can also be picked up, mailed back or returned in person to the following locations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday:

Supervisor of Elections Office

Pinellas County Courthouse

315 Court St. Room 117

Clearwater, FL 33756

Supervisor of Elections Office

501 First Ave. N

Fifth Street N entrance

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Supervisor of Elections Office

Election Service Center

Starkey Lakes Corporate

Center

13001 Starkey Road

Largo, FL 33773

10 cities in Pinellas say no to early voting in March election 02/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 1:13pm]

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