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Florida’s early voting off to smooth start across Tampa Bay

After weeks of being able to cast vote-by-mail ballots, Floridians in most counties started voting in person Monday.
Long lines wrap around the building before the doors open at the Supervisor of Elections Office - County Building - 501 First Ave. N., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Long lines wrap around the building before the doors open at the Supervisor of Elections Office - County Building - 501 First Ave. N., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 19, 2020
Updated Oct. 20, 2020

Thousands of voters flocked to cast ballots Monday on the first day of early in-person voting in Tampa Bay, with record turnout just the latest sign of this presidential election’s intensity.

Both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties reported unprecedented numbers for first-day early voting, even with some heavy afternoon showers. Hillsborough had more than 24,000 voters come through its early voting sites, with more swinging by to drop off mail ballots. That’s compared to fewer than 19,000 on the first day of early voting in 2016.

Pinellas, with fewer early voting sites, had more than 8,000 in-person voters Monday, about double the 4,400 in 2016. For both counties, that’s still a fraction of the numbers of mail ballots that have been returned so far.

Lines of voters snaked around the block at several early voting sites throughout the state well before doors opened and continued throughout the day, although elections workers mostly managed to move people through at a steady pace.

With just two weeks to go until Election Day, about 2.5 million Floridians had cast ballots by mail before Monday — not far off from the 2.6 million who did so for the entire 2018 general election.

But Monday was the first chance for Tampa Bay voters leery of voting by mail to opt for another alternative to Election Day.

Ricardo Rivera, 60, said he doesn’t trust the U.S. Postal Service after it lost a letter he’d sent. He waited in line for about 40 minutes Monday at the Riverview Branch Library to cast his ballot for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“The keyword in this election is decency,” Rivera said. “I’m a veteran. I served this country for more than 30 years. I love this country and I want a better future with Biden.”

Don Bergeman, 78, said he was voting early for the first time in hopes to avoid any long lines on Election Day. He said Pinellas County’s elections service center in Largo was better than expected.

Bergeman voted for President Donald Trump, saying Trump has had a “magnificent” four years — minus the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m just so proud of America,” Bergeman said. “I don’t want to see dramatic changes.”

Clyde Griffin, of Clearwater, displays a trump sign outside the Supervisor of Elections Office at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., during early voting on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Clearwater. Early voting is available in Pinellas County, October 19  through November 1, 2020 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., daily.
Clyde Griffin, of Clearwater, displays a trump sign outside the Supervisor of Elections Office at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., during early voting on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Clearwater. Early voting is available in Pinellas County, October 19 through November 1, 2020 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., daily. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Throughout Florida, 52 of its 67 counties provided in-person early voting Monday, including all counties in the Tampa Bay region. Hours vary by location. The rest of the counties will begin offering early voting in the coming days.

Related: Here we go, Florida: Voters start casting ballots in person on Monday

Long lines were reported throughout the state, including in South Florida, in Jacksonville and in Tampa Bay, but Florida did not appear to see widespread issues with hours-long lines seen on the first day of early voting in some other states.

There were some hiccups. The main elections office in Okaloosa County, which is next to Alabama and home to more than 200,000, abruptly closed to the public Sunday “until further notice” after Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux and an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The office was supposed to house one of the county’s five early voting locations.

Meanwhile, in Orange County, the elections office’s website was down for most of the day as early voting got started. The elections office said in a tweet that the website was not hacked but was a “technical issue which we are working to resolve."

In Broward County in South Florida, there were scattered reports of longer lines, and at a polling place in Fort Lauderdale, police removed four maskless voters, then allowed them back in to cast ballots, according to Local10.com.

Voters in Tampa Bay generally reported a smooth experience at early voting sites.

In Hillsborough, about 150 people queued up at Southshore Regional Library in Ruskin before 7 a.m., leading to a wait of about an hour, said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office.

A similar number lined up at the elections service center on Falkenburg Road in Tampa. Other sites, including Raymond James Stadium, didn’t appear to have any line or waiting.

Hillsborough County is offering 26 early voting sites this election, up from 20 in 2018. The new sites include Raymond James Stadium in northwest Tampa and Amalie Arena in the Channel District, where voters got special Tampa Bay Lightning “I voted” stickers and were able to pose for pictures with the Stanley Cup and Lightning mascot ThunderBug.

Tampa Bay Lightning mascot ThunderBug hugs the Stanley Cup while on stage at Thunder Alley during early voting at Amalie Arena, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning mascot ThunderBug hugs the Stanley Cup while on stage at Thunder Alley during early voting at Amalie Arena, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

At the southeast elections office in Riverview, John McDowell, 74, brought his own folding chair with him to wait in line to vote Monday morning. He and his wife, Carole, 80, say they have never missed an election; they waited outside for about 45 minutes before getting to go cast their ballots.

In Pinellas, a voter showed up as early as 4:45 a.m. to await the 7 a.m. opening of the early voting site at the elections service center in Largo, said poll worker Jackaline Shields. She said during a “steady flow” of voters everyone was polite and understanding.

Other sites also saw strong turnout in the morning. As the day wore on and afternoon rain fell swept through the region, voting appeared to slow down but continued to be steady at many sites.

Early voters Jenny Hart, center, and James Hart, of Clearwater, wait in line to enter the early voting location at the Supervisor of Elections Office at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., during early voting on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Clearwater.
Early voters Jenny Hart, center, and James Hart, of Clearwater, wait in line to enter the early voting location at the Supervisor of Elections Office at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., during early voting on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Jennifer Silverstein, 35, brought her two children with her to vote at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in Valrico. Each had an umbrella and a face mask for protection. Silverstein said she normally votes by mail, but this year is an exception: “I want to be 100 percent sure that my vote is counted,” she said.

Democrats have largely dominated vote-by-mail so far this election cycle — returning more than 1.2 million mail ballots so far to Republicans' 760,000. Experts expect to see in-person voting to shift more toward Republicans this year.

On Monday, both Biden and Trump supporters were found among the voters at early voting sites.

Related: It’s the GOP’s turn: Florida’s early voting awash in conservative wave

Keith Dunn, 43, voted for Trump on Monday at the SPC Allstate Center in St. Petersburg but said he disagrees with some of his decisions, including the president’s use of Twitter. “I like his platform. I like his policies. I think he’s a dumpster fire, but he’s putting policies in place that will help my kids and grandkids.”

In Hillsborough, at the Temple Terrace Public Library, Brenda Barnes, 55, said she has faith voters will find a way to coexist regardless of the outcome of the election. But she said issues of racial inequity and injustice made her anxious to be able to cast a vote for Biden on Monday.

“If we want to truly get this country back on track we need to do the right thing,” Barnes said. “I need to know my life is just as important as the next person in line’s.”

Related: Column: Let's talk about voter intimidation

Unlike on Election Day, which requires voters to cast ballots only at their assigned precincts, voters can choose to go to any early voting site in the county.

Each early voting site will have a drop box for voters who want to turn in their mail ballots that way instead of putting them in the mail. Drop boxes are also located at elections offices. Some counties, like Pinellas, are also setting up drop boxes at other locations.

Voters wanting to vote in person must bring a valid photo ID and signature verification.

Times staff photographer Dirk Shadd contributed to this story.

Early voting times and locations

CITRUS: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 19-31

• Central Ridge Library, 425 W. Roosevelt Blvd., Beverly Hills

• Crystal River Elections Office, 1500 N. Meadowcrest Blvd., Crystal River

• Homosassa Public Library, 4100 S. Grandmarch Ave., Homosassa

• Inverness City Hall, 212 W. Main St., Inverness

HERNANDO: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 19-31

• South Brooksville Community Center, 601 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., Brooksville

• Supervisor of Elections branch office, 7443 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill

• East Hernando Library, 6457 Windmere Road, Brooksville

• Spring Hill Branch Library, 9220 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill

• Hernando County Utilities Department, 15365 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville

HILLSBOROUGH: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 19-Nov. 1

• Apollo Beach Community Center, 664 Golf and Sea Blvd., Apollo Beach

• Austin Davis Public Library, 17808 Wayne Road, Odessa

• Bloomingdale Regional Public Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico

• Bruton Memorial Library, 302 W McLendon St., Plant City, FL 33563

• C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library, 2607 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa

• Fred B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa

• Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library, 3910 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa

• Jimmie B. Keel Regional Public Library, 2902 W. Bearss Ave., Tampa

• Maureen B. Gauzza Public Library, 11211 Countryway Blvd., Tampa

• New Tampa Regional Library, 10001 Cross Creek Blvd., Tampa

• North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 N Blvd., Tampa

• Northdale Recreation Center, 15550 Spring Pine Drive, Tampa

• Port Tampa Community Center, 4702 W. McCoy St., Tampa

• Providence West Community Center, 5405 Providence Road, Riverview

• Riverview Branch Library, 10509 Riverview Drive, Riverview

• Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center, 2514 N. Falkenburg Road, Tampa

• SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin

• Northwest Elections Office, 4575 Gunn Highway, Tampa

• Southeast Elections Office, 10020 S U.S. Highway 301, Riverview

• USF TECO Hall (David C. Anchin Center), 4110 USF Apple Drive, Tampa

• Temple Terrace Public Library, 202 Bullard Parkway, Temple Terrace

• Town ‘N Country Regional Public Library, 7606 Paula Drive, Tampa

• West Tampa Branch Library, 2312 W. Union St., Tampa

• University Area Community Center, 14013 N. 22nd St., Tampa

• Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa

• Raymond James Stadium, 4201 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

MANATEE: 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19-Nov. 1

• Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch

• Manatee County Utilities Administration, 4410 66th St. W, Bradenton

• Palmetto Library, 923 6th St. W, Palmetto

• Rocky Bluff Library, 6750 U.S. Highway 301, Ellenton

• Supervisor of Elections Office, 600 301 Blvd. W, Suite 118, Bradenton

• FL Department of Transportation Operations Center, 14000 State Road 64 E., Bradenton

PASCO: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 19-31

• West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive, New Port Richey

• East Pasco Government Center, 14236 6th St., Dade City

• Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, 3032 Collier Parkway, Land O' Lakes

• Hudson Library, 8012 Library Road, Hudson

• New River Library, 34043 State Road 54, Wesley Chapel

• Odessa Community Center, 1627 Chesapeake Drive, Odessa

• Pasco County Utilities Administration Building, 19420 Central Blvd., Land O' Lakes

• Regency Park Library, 9701 Little Road, New Port Richey

• South Holiday Library, 4649 Mile Stretch Drive, Holiday

• Advent Health Center Ice, 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., Wesley Chapel

• Alice Hall Community Center, 38116 5th Ave., Zephyrhills

• Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, 3021 Sports Coast Way, Wesley Chapel

• Veterans Memorial Park, 14333 Hicks Road, Hudson

• J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex, 2830 Gulf Trace Blvd., Holiday

PINELLAS: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 19-Nov. 1

• Supervisor of Elections Office - Election Service Center, 13001 Starkey Road, Largo

• Supervisor of Elections Office - County Courthouse, 315 Court St. Room 117, Clearwater

• Supervisor of Elections Office - County Building, 501 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg

• The Centre of Palm Harbor, 1500 16th St., Palm Harbor

• SPC Allstate Center, 3200 34th St. S., St. Petersburg

POLK: 7 a.m. to 7 pm., Oct. 19-Nov. 1

• Polk Street Community Center, 1255 Polk St., Bartow

• Polk County Sheriffs Northeast District Office, 1100 Dunson Road, Davenport

• Haines City Library, 111 N. 6th St., Haines City

• Polk County Government Center, 930 E. Parker St., Lakeland

• Simpson Park Community Center, 1725 Martin L. King Jr. Ave., Lakeland

• James P. Austin Community Center, 315 Doctor MLK Jr. Blvd., Lake Wales

• Mulberry Civic Center, 901 N.E. 5th St., Mulberry

• Poinciana Community Center, 395 Marigold Ave., Poinciana

• Gill Jones Northeast Polk County Government Center, 3425 Lake Alfred Road, Winter Haven

SARASOTA: 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19-Nov. 1

• Supervisor of Elections Office - Sarasota, 2001 Adams Lane, Sarasota

• Supervisor of Elections Office - Venice, R.L. Anderson Administration Building, 4000 Tamiami Trail S., Venice

• Supervisor of Elections Office - North Port, Biscayne Plaza, 13640 Tamiami Trail, North Port

• Sarasota Square Mall, 8201 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

• North Sarasota Library, 2801 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

• Fruitville Library, 100 Apex Road, Sarasota

• Shannon Staub Library, 4675 Career Lane, North Port

• Bee Ridge Park, 4430 S. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

VOTER GUIDE: You can access our Know Your Candidates guide with information on local races at tampabay.com/voterguide.

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

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?

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