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Seven questions with Pinellas County’s supervisor of elections

“Our voters should have as much confidence in mail ballots as they do with in-person voting,” Julie Marcus said.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office has long promoted the vote-by-mail option to its voters.

During Florida’s August primary, which saw higher numbers of voters across the state opting to cast mail ballots amid the coronavirus, Pinellas County led the way with a higher proportion of its votes cast by mail ballot than any other county.

But while Pinellas’ elections office may be accustomed to handling large numbers of mail ballots, no elections official has ever run a presidential election in the midst of a pandemic.

This will be the first general election where Julie Marcus is at the helm as supervisor of elections. Marcus, a longtime employee of the elections office, was appointed to the top role following the retirement of longtime Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark earlier this year.

Related: Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints new Pinellas supervisor of elections

Marcus is also on the ballot; she is running against Dan Helm for the supervisor of elections seat. That means she will not be sitting on the elections canvassing board for this election.

The Tampa Bay Times asked Marcus a few questions in her role as supervisor of elections about how she’s preparing for the 2020 general election and what she wants voters to know.

Marcus’ answers have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

What is the scenario that keeps you up at night?

Misinformation. Working to create confidence in the electoral process by being open and transparent only goes so far when the headwinds of misinformation are so strong. Even well-intentioned individuals who spread misinformation to friends and family cause confusion and erode voter confidence. Much effort is made to make sure voters know their supervisor of elections office is the official source of information. For Pinellas County voters, go to VotePinellas.com or call 727-464-8683 with any questions or concerns about the electoral process.

What do you want people to know about voting by mail?

Voting by mail is a reasonable, convenient and secure option to cast a ballot. Pinellas County has been educating voters on the option of voting by mail since 2007. Our voters should have as much confidence in mail ballots as they do with in-person voting.

Voters can return their ballots by mail using prepaid postage. We encourage voters to mail their ballots at least one week prior to the election, so it is received by the deadline of 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. Voters can return their ballots to one of our 25 ballot drop-off locations. These locations are staffed by deputized election workers and ballots are returned to the supervisor of elections office at the close of each day. Five of these locations are drive-thru locations, weather permitting. Voters are not permitted to drop off their ballots at an Election Day polling place. Voters can drop mail ballots off at any supervisor of elections office until 7 p.m. on Election Day.

How can Pinellas residents know whether their mail ballot got counted?

Voters can track their mail ballot online at votepinellas.com/trackmyballot. The tracking system will let voters know that we have the mail ballot request on file, when the ballot is sent, when we receive the ballot and when the ballot is counted.

What safeguards are in place to prevent ineligible people from casting mail ballots?

Florida has laws in place to prevent voter fraud. Below are some examples to protect your vote:

  • Mail ballots can only be sent to voters who request them.
  • Undeliverable mail ballots must be returned to the supervisor of elections.
  • Mail ballots cannot be forwarded.
  • Every signature on the mail ballot certificate return envelope must be verified with the signature we have in the voter’s file.
  • Persons cannot be paid to collect mail ballots.

Supervisors of elections are also required to have extensive auditing, reconciliation and chain-of-custody procedures to prevent fraud.

What do you want to tell people about putting their ballot in the mail?

Confirm you have signed your mail ballot certificate return envelope (Note: only the voter can sign his/her return envelope). Make sure you mail your ballot back to us at least one week prior to Election Day. Ballots must be received by the supervisor of elections office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

What is the question you get asked most these days by voters, and what do you say?

The question we are asked the most: “Is voting by mail safe?” And the answer is YES. Voting by mail is a reasonable, convenient and secure option to cast a ballot. Pinellas voters have been voting by mail for years and are confident with the process. As of Sept. 22, there are almost 370,000 Pinellas County voters who have requested mail ballots for the general election. All eligible mail ballots are counted and included in final official election results. We attribute Pinellas' high turnout to voters embracing mail ballots!

What do you think will be the story of Florida during this presidential election year?

Despite a global pandemic, hurricanes and misinformation, every eligible voter who wanted to vote had more access to the process than ever before and that election results were available before most of the nation.

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

AMENDMENTS: State constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, explained.

FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.

MAIL-IN BALLOTS: So you want to vote by mail in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.

POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?

HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on voter registration deadlines, rules for voting by mail and more.

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