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Pinellas supervisor criticized for lack of early voting sites

The League of Women Voters' national president and Sen. Barack Obama's campaign are faulting Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark for having too few early voting sites for the upcoming election.

Since the 2006 election, Clark, who is facing opposition on the November ballot, has offered early voting only at the supervisor's offices in Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg, as required by law.

Other supervisors set up sites not only at their offices, but at city halls and libraries.

"That's a very unfortunate situation, to not take advantage of the early voting," said league president Mary Wilson. "Early voting is big. Voters enjoy it."

For the last week, Wilson has visited several Florida counties, but not Pinellas, to assess readiness for the election. She said another election official told her of Clark's position.

Wilson predicted that with so few early voting sites, Pinellas is likely to experience extremely long lines on Election Day.

The county had nine early voting sites for the 2004 presidential election. Adrianne Marsh, Florida spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said comparable counties in the state will average eight locations.

Clark has steadfastly defended her position. Having early voting countywide does little to boost turnout, she argues, and the expense — about $250,000 per election — is too great.

She has aggressively championed voting by mail. That process involves voters requesting ballots, which they can mail in or leave at 14 dropoff locations.

Over 16 percent of registered voters in Pinellas are getting mail-in ballots for this election.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a former Pasco County elections supervisor, criticized Wilson for presuming to know how many early-voting sites are enough. Browning is reluctant to second-guess the decisions of elected supervisors.

Browning said he called Clark on Thursday after seeing that "she's being pressured a little bit," but he said Clark was adamant that three is sufficient.

Pinellas' three sites, which will open Oct. 20, will serve 625,000 voters. In Tampa, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson will have 13 early voting sites for 661,000 voters.

Obama campaign officials aren't too pleased with Johnson, either. They fear his decision to hold weekend early voting only on Saturdays could inconvenience Jewish voters who observe the Sabbath.

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

Pinellas supervisor criticized for lack of early voting sites 09/26/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 1:36pm]
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