Starting just four weeks from Monday, Pinellas voters will be summoned to the polls to cast their ballots.
Surprised? If you thought the next time you would be voting would be for president on Nov. 4, you skipped a step. You forgot about the state primary. Early voting for the Aug. 26 primary starts Aug. 11.
I can almost hear you saying, "But wait. We've already had the primary. It was in January. It got lots of national publicity because it broke some obscure rule. We've been there, done that."
Well, yes, but that was the presidential primary. There's another primary that precedes the November election and its purpose is to allow voters to nominate one candidate from each party to run in November if multiple candidates from a party qualified for the ballot.
But in Pinellas, we also use the primary as a sort of general election to choose nonpartisan School Board members and circuit judges — as long as they can win more than 50 percent of the vote. If not, the top vote getters show up on the November ballot.
Hey, don't look at me. I didn't invent the system.
In the partisan races, only registered Republicans or Democrats get to vote, to choose their party's nominee. But in the nonpartisan School Board and circuit judge races, everyone registered can vote.
So, here's the rundown for the Aug. 26 primary:
In the race to replace county Property Appraiser Jim Smith, who isn't running for re-election, two Republicans met qualifications for the ballot, so Republicans will see the names of those two candidates, Pam Dubov and Frank Gregoire, on their ballots. The winner will meet Democrat Ben Friedlander on Nov. 4.
Republican Sheriff Jim Coats is seeking re-election on the November ballot, but two Democrats qualified to run against him. So on the Aug. 26 primary ballot, Democratic voters will choose either Randall Jones or John Pikramenos to face off on Nov. 4 against Coats and independent candidate Greg Pound.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan decided not to seek re-election. Two Republicans, former Safety Harbor City Commissioner Neil Brickfield and current School Board member Jane Gallucci, qualified to run for Duncan's seat. Republicans will have to decide which of them should go up against Democrat Paul Matton in November.
County Commissioner Bob Stewart decided to retire from the commission, so Democrats will have to decide whether they want former St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers or civic activist Darden Rice to oppose Republican Nancy Bostock, a current School Board member, in November.
Depending on where you live in Pinellas, you may also see congressional and state legislative races on your primary ballot.
For example, three Democrats qualified to oppose U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis for the 9th congressional district seat: Anita de Palma, John Dicks and Bill Mitchell. Democratic voters will have to choose just one.
In the 10th congressional district, voters also will have three Democrats to choose from Aug. 26: Bob Hackworth, Max Linn and Samm Simpson. The winner will oppose incumbent U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in November.
Two Democrats, Richard Skandera and Fred Taylor, qualified to run for the 11th District state Senate seat now held by Mike Fasano.
State House District 55 Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat, is being challenged by another Democrat, Charles McKenzie Jr., so their names will be on the primary ballot for Democrats.
Those are the partisan races on the Aug. 26 ballot. In the non-partisan category, three people are running for circuit judge in 6th Circuit Group 6 and three in Group 8.
Depending on where they live, voters will see two or three School Board races on their ballots. The District 1 race, voted countywide, has four candidates, including incumbent Janet Clark. District 2, also voted countywide, has five candidates seeking to replace Nancy Bostock. And District 4, voted only in that district, has four candidates hoping to replace Jane Gallucci.
You have until July 28 to register to vote in the Aug. 26 primary. Mail ballots were sent out Thursday to registered voters who requested them, and they can be returned any time between now and 7 p.m. Aug. 26. Don't be in too much of a hurry to return your ballot — lots of information about the candidates and their positions will become available, along with opportunities to see some candidates in person, as Aug. 26 gets closer.
North Pinellas voters can see the candidates for sheriff and County Commission at 7 p.m. July 21 at a forum sponsored by the Council of North County Neighborhoods. The two-hour forum will be at the Crescent Oaks Country Club, 3300 Crescent Oaks Blvd. in East Lake. Questions for the candidates can be submitted in advance at www.cncnpc.org.
If you want the best candidates to choose from on Nov. 4, choose well on Aug. 26. The primary is too important to overlook.
Diane Steinle's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.