For more than one in three voters in St. Petersburg, the Sept. 1 city election arrived last week by mail. Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark sent nearly 58,400 ballots to voters who had requested a mail ballot or succumbed to her mail ballot push during last November's election.
With more than six weeks before election day, voters would be wise to hold on to mail ballots for a while. The stakes this year are high: St. Petersburg will get a new mayor for the first time in eight years, and voters will elect five of the eight seats on the City Council. The top two finishers in each race in the September primary advance to the November election.
Local elections are often run on shoestrings, meaning candidates can't afford earnest campaigning for weeks and weeks before an election. And while the wide-open mayoral race — and its pack of 10 candidates — has spawned forums through the summer, the race still remains largely undefined. The candidates have yet to separate themselves on various issues in any meaningful way. And much less is known in the five council races featuring 13 candidates.
On Wednesday, for example, the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club will host a forum for City Council candidates for Districts 5 and 6. The mayoral candidates meet Aug. 19 for a forum produced by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9. Voters who cast their mail ballot quickly risk regretting it.
There's no doubt mail balloting is convenient for many, including the elections staff who have pushed it as a way to cut costs. But by sending ballots so early — at the same time as required for overseas ballots — Clark has added an inherent risk that more uninformed votes will be cast.
The best option to mail voters: Hold onto the ballot and learn more about the candidates. Your ballot isn't due until the primary elections, Sept. 1. If you misplace it, you can request a replacement up to six days before the election.
And for those St. Petersburg residents who aren't registered to vote: You have until Aug. 3 to register and be able to vote on Sept. 1.