Early voting, which began Monday and continued to draw lines on Tuesday, could be the best thing to happen to elections since the secret ballot. Voting is now a matter of finding some spare time in a busy week rather than potentially having to wait in longer lines on Election Day — and hope your boss understands. And with so many new registered voters, convenient early voting should help reduce the crowds and confusion at the polls on Nov. 4.
But that is not how Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark sees it. She is stubbornly standing against the expansion of early voting in the county, claiming the cost is too great and the logistics are too burdensome, even as other counties offer two and three times the number of sites.
Clark is a responsible public official and dutiful elections supervisor, but this is a blind spot. She has taken a very wrong turn by choosing to promote absentee voting and mail-in balloting as a substitute for early voting.
It is not an either-or choice. Yes, absentee voting should be made convenient. Yes, polls on Election Day should be set up to handle a deluge of voters. But both preparations should be complemented by a reasonable number of early voting sites distributed around the county. Yet Clark only offers three sites — all at elections offices south of Clearwater.
The result has been a tamping down of early voting in Pinellas County. On the first day of general election voting, Hillsborough County, with 13 early voting sites, saw nearly 7,600 people vote; Pasco County, with seven sites, had about 4,500 voters cast ballots. In Pinellas County, fewer than 2,500 people voted.
It is not too late to open more sites. Clark ought to see the light and do what has to be done to provide Pinellas voters with the maximum opportunity to cast their ballots. Otherwise, voters stuck in long lines on Nov. 4 will know whom to blame.