Seminole Heights resident Roger Sanderson did something this year he doesn’t normally do. The 73-year-old voted by mail.
“I have usually voted in person, because I like to,” he said. However, the retired epidemiologist said he wasn’t taking any chances during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In March, Sanderson voted at his polling place early on a Sunday morning before the post-church rush. But for the upcoming August primary, he decided to avoid in-person voting altogether and drop off his vote-by-mail ballot at the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library. Come November, he said he’ll do the same.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke with the Supervisors of Elections for Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to learn more about the steps they’re taking to keep people safe while casting a ballot. These local election experts offer advice for those who might be anxious about voting among large crowds during the pandemic.
Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Brian E. Corley, Pasco County Supervisor of Elections
How have Centers for Disease Control guidelines changed what voting looks like?
Because of the social distancing guidelines, you’re going to have marked lines devolving space. And because of that, there’s going to be a rather, more than likely, sizable wait time. It’s inevitable.
What we’re seeing play out right now during early voting for the primary are positive reports from both our early voting workers and our voters. So they’re happy with the safeguards we’ve taken.The only issue is, it’s a low turnout for a primary. It’s going to be high turnout for a general.
Was there any consideration in trying to make some of these polling locations outdoors, maybe under pavilions or tents?
No, because it’s not feasible. The one time we would ever do that is when you absolutely have to. The last time that was done was after Hurricane Michael in Bay County because the buildings were decimated. We certainly couldn’t do it during a primary because people would be dropping from the heat.
One of the things that frustrates me is that we are limited on where we can have early voting. I can’t have it anywhere I want and I have to adhere to Florida statute. My colleagues and I asked the governor for some flexibility to allow us to hold early voting in larger facilities like, say, a big church hall. But we were denied. So some reporting places don’t have the largest footprint, but it’s the only location I can have. We just need larger facilities where we can accommodate more check-in stations and more space inside privacy booths, because all those have to be spaced out as well.
Julie Marcus, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections
Is there any possibility that people might be able to participate in vote by mail?
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While the deadline to register to vote by mail in the primary was Aug. 8, those still interested in voting in the primary by mail can pick up a ballot at their local supervisor of elections office. Keep in mind that our three offices are also early voting locations. So if you came in to pick up a mail ballot, there’s also early voting going on this week. The deadline to request a vote by mail ballot for November’s general election is October 24.
How many polling locations are there this year?
We have 166 polling locations, down from 178 in March, which is very still very significant. We felt it was very important to keep polling places within communities so that there were smaller groups of folks voting at a location over a long period of time. We did lose locations in assisted living facilities that we could no longer use for obvious reasons, but anything that we could maintain as a polling place, we did. So we didn’t make any changes that were not necessary, because going into a presidential election, providing continuity to the process is key.
What are the least busy hours and locations to vote?
Early voting for the primary will be open on weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday before the election from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s going to be least busy during work hours. Voters should consider not choosing lunchtime or after work hours. Of course, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, no matter what election it is, is when early voting is the busiest.
When it comes to election day, voters have to vote in their home precinct. However, voters can choose to vote any time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Again, to avoid lines and folks who are usually going to and from work, it would be best to vote after 9 a.m., not during lunch and not when folks are getting out of work around 4 p.m. and beyond. So take advantage of those good morning and mid-afternoon times.
Craig Latimer, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections
What safety precautions is your office taking?
We are offering a very safe and healthy environment. There are flexible plexiglass barriers between the voters and the poll workers. We have provided our poll workers with personal protection equipment such as masks, gloves, face shields and wipes. We’re wiping down privacy booths in the polling site on a pretty regular basis. When you come into the polling site, you’re going to pick up a stylus pen to sign in on the electronic poll book and mark your ballot. Then you take the souvenir home with your sticker. So it’s a personal use pen.
What are the least busy hours to vote?
It’s a little difficult to tell you which is the slowest location because it changes from day to day. Don’t wait until the last weekend because you may encounter people with the same mindset. We’re open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the primary, so obviously 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. is a great time to come.
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For more information, Pinellas residents should call (727)-464-8683 or go to votepinellas.com.
Hillsborough County residents can call (813) 744-5900 for more information or visit https://www.votehillsborough.org.
Pasco residents can call 800-851- 8754 or go https://www.pascovotes.gov for more information.
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