Times staff writer
TAMPA — Here's a development that's interesting, even encouraging.
After worrying that a recent change in Florida law might depress absentee voting in Tampa's March 1 elections, officials are seeing a bumper crop of requests for the vote-by-mail ballots.
As of Friday, city voters had requested 8,518 absentee ballots. That's more than double 2007's total of about 4,100 and well ahead of 2003's 5,000 absentee requests.
So far, 531 of those voters have returned absentee ballots to elections officials.
Going into this election, local officials weren't sure how many requests for absentee ballots they would receive. That's because a change to state law meant many Tampa voters who might expect to receive a ballot would not get one unless they made a new request.
Before this year, a voter who requested an absentee ballot for any election would automatically receive it for all elections in the following two general election cycles, such as 2008 and 2010.
Last year, however, the Legislature changed the law while updating absentee voting rules for military and overseas voters.
Now voters will receive an absentee ballot for only one general election cycle.
Moreover, because of the change, Tampa voters must renew their request by 5 p.m. Feb. 23 if they want an absentee ballot for this city election. That's true even if they voted by mail in the Nov. 2 election. Unless you indicate a wish to the contrary, a request for an absentee ballot in this election will remain good through the general election in 2012.