Friday, April 27, 2018
Politics

St. Petersburg voters have returned 44% of absentee ballots

ST. PETERSBURG — More than 27,000 residents have already voted in Tuesday's election for the next mayor and four City Council seats.

As of Friday, voters had returned 44 percent of the more than 62,000 absentee ballots sent out by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

The 27,135 ballots nearly matches the 27,407 submitted at this point in the Aug. 27 primary election.

It's no surprise.

Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman, along with eight council candidates, are targeting voters to return the ballots.

"There's been a more concerted effort to largely win the election by absentee ballot," said Gregory Wilson, principal at the political consulting firm Parsons-Wilson in St. Petersburg. "It's the new normal."

Partisan politics also is a factor in the officially nonpartisan race.

The state Republican and Democratic parties, along with outside political committees, are spending thousands of dollars on attack ads. Foster is a Republican; Kriseman is a Democrat.

At the end of August, St. Petersburg had 161,413 registered voters. For Tuesday's election, 62,416 voters received absentee ballots.

Although Democrats have turned in more ballots than Republicans, GOP voters have returned them at a higher rate.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 47 percent to 28 percent in St. Petersburg. Another 21 percent of voters are not affiliated with a political party, while 4 percent identify with other parties.

Through Friday, Democrats returned 12,982 out of 30,951 absentee ballots sent to them. Republicans returned 9,655 out of 19,741. Other voters returned 4,497 out of 11,817, records show.

Other influences could increase voter turnout on Tuesday.

Unfavorable ratings for Republican Gov. Rick Scott and voter contempt with gridlock in Washington, D.C., could drive people to vote, Wilson said.

"Democrats rightfully smell blood," he said. "They have the momentum."

Meanwhile, Foster and Kriseman made the final push to reach voters Saturday and Sunday. The contest has become the costliest in the city.

Both men have combined to raise more than $500,000 in donations.

Kriseman hopes more residents vote Tuesday than the 50,400 people who voted in the Aug. 27 primary,

"People have a real choice to make," Kriseman said. "But they have to go out and vote. It's their city. That's the bottom line."

Foster didn't return a message for comment.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

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