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Early voters outnumber Election Day ballots for first time

A new political age has arrived in Pinellas County, and it was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

For the first time in history, more people voted by mail in an August countywide primary than those who showed up to vote in person.

Of the county's 601,136 registered voters, 14.4 percent voted by mail. That far outpaced the 9.6 percent who showed up Tuesday to vote, and the barely 1 percent who visited polls during early voting.

"This is part of a trend," said Deborah Clark, Pinellas County's Supervisor of Elections. "In the future, people will find it easier to vote by mail."

Only two precincts had reported technical problems, said Len Ciecieznski, a county spokesman. Someone pulled the fire alarm at Precinct 565 at the Palm Harbor Methodist Church, forcing a 20-minute evacuation. The machines were locked down so no ballots could be removed, and it delayed only one person from voting.

At Precinct 508 at Central Christian Church in Clearwater, there was a power outage. It lasted about 90 minutes, but a backup generator prevented any interruption in voting, Ciecieznski said.

Then, an elections adviser who was driving in two flash drives with results from two precincts was in a crash about 9 p.m. The worker was sideswiped at County Road 1 and Curlew Road near Palm Harbor, Clark said.

The adviser wasn't hurt, and the flash drives were intact. Pinellas County sheriff's deputies retrieved the flash drives and brought them to the office. They were the last two precincts to be counted and had to be driven in because of technical problems with the modem.

"It's always something," Clark said.

Tuesday's turnout was nearly 25 percent. In the 2008 primary, turnout was only 12.48 percent. In the 2006 August primary, it was 20.4 percent.

Clark encourages mail voting, saying it's easier and cheaper than early voting. As of Monday, more than 81,000 had voted by mail in Pinellas. Another 4,000 ballots came in on Tuesday. By comparison, only 29,468 had voted by mail in Hillsborough, 9,509 in Pasco, 68,355 in Miami-Dade, and 45,631 in Orange.

While mail votes made up the bulk of voting this year, it accounted for only 47 percent in 2008's primary and 15 percent in 2006.

"It makes it easier for the voters to participate," Clark said. "And with today being the first day of school and with the weather, it's easier for people to vote ahead of time."

Early voters outnumber Election Day ballots for first time 08/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 2:07am]
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