Though thousands of Pinellas County residents have already voted, thousands more are expected to show up at the polls today, where they can expect long lines and a long ballot. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A record number of people have cast their ballots in advance, using mail ballots or voting early in person. By mid October, Pinellas voters had already broken the record for mail ballots cast in the 2008 presidential election. So far this year, about 222,800 mail ballots have been sent in and 39,500 people have voted early.
If you plan to vote today, here's what you need to know before you head to the polls:
Double check your polling place. Every registered voter in Pinellas is assigned to one of the county's 299 precincts, which is listed on voters' information cards. Residents also can call the county's Election Service Center at (727) 464-8683 to find their precinct location. County officials also mailed sample ballots to residents and those contain precinct information as well. Some precinct assignments changed because of redistricting, so don't assume where you voted in 2008 is where you should go in 2012.
What you need to bring: Florida requires people to present a valid picture identification with a signature in order to vote. This can be a current driver's license, U.S. passport, Florida identification card, student or military ID, debit or credit card, retirement center ID, neighborhood association ID or public assistance ID. Registered voters who show up without identification will be asked to cast a provisional ballot, which the canvassing board will later review to decide its validity.
Allow extra time for the long ballot: This year's ballot is four pages long — it fills two sheets, front and back — and is one of the longest in Florida history. Each of those sheets has to be filled out and fed, one at a time, through the county's ballot scanners. Inevitably, the length of the ballot and some voters' unfamiliarity with the 11 constitutional amendments have led to lines at early voting stations. Give yourself extra time to stand in line and read all those amendments. Because there are so many precincts, election officials will not post wait times online as they have done during early voting.
Still have an absentee ballot? It's too late to vote by mail, but you can still drop off your completed ballot today at one of the 14 county locations by 7 p.m. Those locations are posted on the Supervisor of Elections website at www.votepinellas.com. If you never filled it out, you can still vote in person at your precinct, but it's a good idea to bring the unused mail ballot with you. If you don't, precinct workers will have to call the elections office to verify that you didn't already submit it, an extra step that could make the process longer.
Want to make sure your absentee ballot was received? Call the supervisor of elections office at (727) 464-8683 or go to www.votepinellas.com and scroll to the bottom of the page where it says "Track Your Mail Ballot Status." Enter your last name, birth date, and house number. When a ballot has reached the elections office, the record will state "Ballot 1 received by office." Your ballot will not technically be processed until today, after which time the status will change to show whether the ballot was counted or not. Voters whose ballots are not counted will receive a letter from the supervisor of elections after the election explaining why.
What if a poll worker says I can't vote but I think I can? You can cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are given to voters whose eligibility cannot be determined. You will have to submit proof by 5 p.m. Thursday that you were eligible to vote.
Can I wear a campaign T-shirt to vote? Voters wearing campaign gear may enter a polling place to vote, but they are asked not to speak about candidates or issues or solicit other voters while they are inside the polling place.
What if I'm still in line when the polls close? Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.