Early voting and mail ballots make for a lonely Tuesday primary

Art Ketchersid works to set up private poll booths in preparation for election day at the Coliseum at 535 4th Ave N, in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]

Art Ketchersid works to set up private poll booths in preparation for election day at the Coliseum at 535 4th Ave N, in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Aug. 31, 2016

In much of Tampa Bay, voters saw a quiet day at the polls, but that didn't mean it was a low turnout for the primary.

On the contrary, a larger percentage of voters cast ballots Tuesday across Tampa Bay than had in previous primaries, but they did so by relying increasingly on mail ballots and early voting.

Hillsborough County reported about 18 percent overall turnout, Pinellas had 27.4 percent, Pasco had 18.6 percent and Hernando reported 22.7 percent. Compare that with 2012, when even Pinellas was at 23.3 percent turnout.

"It's been a trend that more and more people are voting before the election," said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections.

In Pinellas and Hillsborough, nearly three-quarters of votes cast were early or mail-in ballots.

Pinellas County tallied more than 130,000 mail ballots and 3,300 early votes, far outpacing the number of voters who made their way to precincts on Tuesday.

Hillsborough voters also preferred to vote before election day. More than 80,000 voters cast mail ballots, and nearly 28,000 voted early. Compare that with 40,000 at the polls, where the threat of rain loomed.

Still, some voters waited until Tuesday to cast a ballot. Among them was Judy Smith, 76, who wanted the reassurance of turning in her vote in Pinellas County's Republican primary herself.

"Nothing against the mail, but I don't trust it," she said.

Just before she went outside, a couple pulled up to the building to drop something off.

"There's an election today?" the man asked before a poll worker brought them inside.

Elsewhere in Florida, Secretary of State Ken Detzner referred Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to the state attorney and sheriff after election results in the county were released online before polls closed Tuesday night.

"It's unacceptable for voting results to be reported prior to polls closing," said Detzner, the state's top election official.

Early results were released on the Broward supervisor's website around 6:40 p.m., 20 minutes before polls closed. State law requires election supervisors to wait until the polls close in their county to publish results. It is a third-degree felony to release election results early.

Asked if Snipes could be fined, Detzner said, "It's a little more serious than that."

Reports late Monday by the Washington Post that election systems in Arizona and Illinois had been hacked stirred some concern, but Detzner said Florida's vote was secure.

"We have not been contacted by the FBI," he said. "I have seen these reports in the past, but we have put in place all the safeguards we feel are needed."

Times staff writers Tony Marrero and Kathryn Varn contributed to this report.