A mark of good public service is embracing change to better serve the public. After years of promoting mail-in voting in lieu of easy access to early voting, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has finally expanded early voting hours for the November general election and is adding two sites. It took some prodding to do it, but Clark deserves credit for getting the message and acting in the best interests of voters.
Clark's staff informed the Pinellas County Commission this month that the county would have five early voting sites for the November general election and each of them would be open the maximum 168 hours allowed under state law — a 75 percent increase from the 2012 general election. Early voting will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. over 14 days, Oct. 20-Nov. 2. The August primary still will have only three early voting sites.
Clark also plans to maintain 11 dropoff sites for mail-in ballots, the form of nontraditional voting that she has overwhelmingly favored in recent years. She argues it is less expensive, but it has also meant that Pinellas voters had fewer options for voting in person — the best way to ensure that a ballot is counted and not rejected due to a technicality, as can happen with mail-in ballots. Voting in person is also less susceptible to fraud.
Clark's move comes after sharp criticism from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, earlier this year that Pinellas lagged other urban counties in supporting early voting. Now Clark has changed course, and that's in the best interests of her constituents and democracy.