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Vote is telling, Clark says

Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark feels vindicated.

She took a beating from some voters, the media, a U.S. congresswoman and the League of Women Voters for her decision to open only three early voting sites in Pinellas County.

In an election in which Clark's job was on the ballot, it seemed like her future as elections supervisor was in jeopardy.

But Clark cruised to victory Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote. Only Sheriff Jim Coats matched Clark's margin of victory in local races.

Clark said the vast majority of the electorate, many who are struggling financially, appreciated her decision to save their tax collars by cutting back early voting.

Arguing that early voting's impact on overall turnout can't justify the costs involved — roughly $250,000 for a countywide election — Clark's office has largely abandoned it and strongly advocates for mail-in ballots.

Mail-in voting tends to favor Republicans, while early voting tends to draw more Democrats. But Clark, a Republican, said that voters know she has a record of integrity and that her decision to push mail-in ballots was based on the method's convenience and efficiency rather than a partisan gambit.

"The voters get it," Clark said. "I've never done anything to compromise their trust."

Clark, 59, has worked in the county elections office for 30 years and has been supervisor since 2000. This will be her third term.

Her opponent, Jack Killings­worth, had no elections office experience, but did take out TV ads in the days before Election Day.

"I really didn't expect to win," said Killingsworth, 74, a retired electrical engineer. "But I didn't expect to lose that badly."

Clark had taken heat from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and the national president of the League of Women Voters, among others, for her meager number of early voting sites.

Since the general election in 2006, early voting has been offered only at the supervisor's offices in Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg. Hillsborough County opened 13 early voting sites for Tuesday's election. Pasco County had seven.

Despite Clark's landslide win, some remain critical of her.

Jim Donelon, president of the St. Petersburg Democrats, said at least one section of the electorate is disappointed in Clark: early voters who had to wait an hour or more in line.

"I'm sure if it was up to the people who did early voting she would be out of office," Donelon said.

But while long lines were a daily occurrence during early voting in Pinellas, the waits were not as severe as in other areas of Florida.

Clark said she understands the appeal of early voting but thinks the state Legislature has too severely restricted the approach. Lawmakers have cut early voting to a maximum eight hours a day, she said, and limited site locations to supervisors' offices, libraries and city halls.

You can't run an effective early voting operation out of a library's community room, Clark said. She supports loosening the rules so that larger early voting centers can be opened at locations with ample parking and interior space.

Clark said she hopes Gov. Charlie Crist, who ordered an extension of early voting hours as demand peaked in the days before the election, will apply pressure as well.

"Allow the county supervisors to choose the early voting locations," Clark said. "We know our counties better than anybody else."

Vote is telling, Clark says 11/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 11:54am]

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