The primary election is upon us, but for many Pinellas County voters all that's left to do is wait for the returns.
By Sunday, the ninth and final day of early voting, 16.4 percent of the county's 617,925 registered voters had already cast a ballot by mail or at one of the Supervisor of Elections offices.
In addition to the gubernatorial and attorney general primaries, the early birds made their choices in contests for the state House and Senate and the Pinellas County Commission, School Board and Circuit Court bench.
Now it's your turn. If you haven't cast a ballot, here are some things to keep in mind, along with some statistics about the voters who have already made their voices heard.
It's in the mail — especially in Pinellas
Pinellas voters continue to show their penchant for voting by mail.
Of the 101,718 ballots received by Sunday, 99,863 were mail ballots and 1,856 cast at elections offices, according to unofficial numbers from the Supervisor of Elections.
Republicans had an edge over Democrats, 44,011 to 41,950. Minor or no-party voters accounted for 15,757 ballots.
County Commission could get new faces
There will be at least one new face on the Pinellas County Commission come November and as many as three as two Republican incumbents fight to stay on the dais.
Commissioner John Morroni should know Tuesday if he won what he says would be his last four-year term representing District 6, which generally includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches. Only one other candidate, fellow Republican and businessman Tom Rask of Seminole, is running, so the winner of Tuesday's primary gets the seat. All voters in the district regardless of party affiliation can cast a ballot in this universal primary.
Republican incumbent Norm Roche has to fend off a formidable primary opponent in state Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater to keep the District 2 countywide seat for a second term. All registered Republicans in the county can vote in this race. The winner faces Democrat Pat Gerard in the Nov. 4 general election.
The third contest is a crowded Republican primary for the north county District 4 seat held by longtime Commissioner Susan Latvala, who decided not to run again. With seven candidates on the ballot, the winner is likely to take the primary victory with a narrow margin. The victor will square off against Democrat Mark Weinkrantz and two no-party candidates, Marcus Harrison and Carl Folkman, in the general election.
A little something for everyone
Republicans tend to dominate local politics, which means the GOP often has contested primaries in local races for the County Commission and legislative seats and Democrats often don't. But Democrats have more local races to watch this year.
There's the universal primary for the Pinellas Commission District 6 seat mentioned above.
In House District 67 in Clearwater and Largo, three Democrats are running —Thomas Ryan, Steve Sarnoff and Shawna Vercher.
Then there's the messy race for the House District 64 seat that straddles the Pinellas/Hillsborough line.
A judge disqualified a write-in candidate due to residency issues, which would have made the race a universal primary between incumbent James Grant and challenger Miriam Steinberg. Early voting already had started, however, so the judge moved the race to the Nov. 4 ballot. All voters will get to a cast a ballot. Although the race appears on the Republican primary ballot, the votes won't be tallied.
Referendum on tax breaks for businesses
A county referendum asks voters to give the County Commission the authority to grant qualifying businesses an exemption for up to 100 percent of the assessed value of improvements to real and tangible property such as buildings and machinery.
Proponents say the goal is to give new businesses incentive to locate here and to motivate existing businesses to expand.
The minimum number of new jobs required by state law ranges from 10 to 50 and the average wage must be above the local average. Each project under consideration would have to be reviewed by the board and approved under a separate ordinance. Companies granted the exemption would have to document the number of jobs created and their average wages. The commission can revoke the agreement if benchmarks aren't met.
The referendum needs a simple majority to pass. The board's authority would last 10 years.
Still haven't voted? Here's what you do
Mail ballots may be picked up or voted in person at any elections office through today. Ballot drop-off locations are also open through today and will be closed on Election Day. Check for locations and hours at votepinellas.com or in your mail ballot instructions.
Mail ballots already in hand must be received by 7 p.m. Tuesday at any elections office. They will not be accepted at a precinct polling place. Mail ballots can be picked up and cast on Tuesday in any elections office but only in the case of an emergency.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Be sure to bring a form of picture identification. If you've moved, make sure you know your new polling place. Also, some polling place locations have changed. To confirm your polling place, visit the website or call (727) 464-8683.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.