LARGO — Pinellas County is planning to add early voting sites in the Countryside and Tyrone/Lealman areas, following a record high of early, in-person voting during the 2020 presidential election, Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus announced at a county commission meeting Friday.
The elections office also is considering relocating the early voting site at the St. Petersburg College Allstate Center on 34th Street South to another nearby location, Marcus said. The sites will open for the November 2022 election, supervisor of elections spokesperson Dustin Chase told the Tampa Bay Times. The two areas for the new sites have a high portion of citizens who vote early, he said.
The addition of two sites follows years of community members advocating for additional in-person early voting sites, with the request gaining the support of local physicians, pastors of historically Black churches and the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times.
Pinellas County had five in-person early voting sites in the 2020 general election, while Hillsborough County had 26 and Pasco County had 14.
For years, Pinellas County has resisted calls to add more early voting sites, as it emphasized the use of mail-in ballots. At the commission meeting Friday, Marcus noted that 52 percent of the county’s voters have a mail ballot request in their files. Former Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark aggressively advocated for voting by mail; in 2016, when local pastors of historically Black churches asked for additional sites, she said the county’s citizens preferred to vote by mail.
However, data over time prompted the county to consider adding two new in-person early voting sites, Marcus said.
“We have seen an increase in the number of voters voting prior to Election Day, reaching record numbers in 2020,” she said at Friday’s meeting. “With our continued efforts to ensure voters are educated about their voting options, we expect this trend to continue.”
The popularity of voting ahead of Election Day rose during the pandemic. Voting patterns were affected by concerns about the coronavirus as well as unfounded claims by former President Donald Trump and others about widespread problems with mail-in voting. (Trump himself has voted by mail in Florida.)
Marcus told county commissioners there were several factors that would go into determining the location of new voting sites, including compliance with state criteria, accessibility, proximity to mass transit and the flow of entrances and exits. In 2022, 91 percent of the county’s voters will be within 5 miles of an early voting site, she said. All voters will be within 3 miles of a mail ballot drop box, she added.
The elections office budget includes costs for the new voting sites, as well as for its current 25 mail ballot drop-off locations and three additional classified positions, Marcus said.
Marcus also announced Friday that, beginning with the August St. Petersburg primary election, her office will begin using a new system to audit its election results: the ClearAudit software created by the Boston-based Clear Ballot Group. That technology, which is already in use by some Florida counties, including Hillsborough, is separate from a county’s vote tabulation system; all ballots are run through the ClearAudit software to be tallied to see if vote totals match.
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Marcus also talked to commissioners about the redistricting process, which will take place after the fall elections at the state, school board and county levels. After receiving the new district lines, the elections office will be responsible for redrawing precincts, getting them approved by the county board and mailing voter cards and ballots.
“I am going to do everything I can to make sure that we maintain the continuity of our precincts and our polling places everywhere we can,” Marcus told commissioners.
Linsey Grove, president of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, said she was glad to hear about the new early voting sites, especially in light of the passage of Senate Bill 90, which places restrictions on voting by mail.
“Of course, we’re happy to see that she’s adding a couple more early voting sites,” Grove said. “We hope that the supervisor of elections considers adding even more on top of that.”