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Opinion
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Guest Column
On voting, first do no harm | Column
Pinellas has made it easier, not harder, to vote. Florida should follow the example.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral last fall.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral last fall. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Apr. 2
Updated Apr. 6

As a former Pinellas County Commission chair, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on our county election board on several occasions. I’ve observed an efficient, voter-friendly process run by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.

Ken Welch
Ken Welch

After the hanging-chad challenges of the 2000 presidential election, and a brief stint with digital voting machines, Pinellas pioneered voting by mail and now leads the state in its implementation, including convenient drop-off locations and pre-paid postage. More than 60 percent of Pinellas voters cast their ballots by mail in 2020. The Pinellas voting model provides a paper backup of ballots and was especially helpful in conducting elections during the 2020 primary and general elections, during the midst of the pandemic.

Pinellas citizens should be proud of our election process -- one that is fair, transparent and convenient for voters. Our elections process is secure, can be audited and is designed to make voting easy, not difficult.

Some in the Florida Legislature, however, seem to want to make voting harder. To our credit, Florida election supervisors learned a lesson after the failed 2000 election and the digital voting machine experiment thereafter. Today, we are on solid footing with scanned paper ballots, and proven, secure vote-by-mail systems. Rather than fix a system that is not broken, we should invest in voting security, especially in tools and policies to protect our voting technology, and ensure that in-person voting is free from any form of intimidation or interference.

Our election supervisors in Florida’s 67 counties are diverse in party affiliation, yet they speak on one accord in opposing the proposed and unnecessary restrictions on voting -- like limiting the number of drop-off locations, or further restricting the days and hours that ballots can be cast. One must ask the question: Why is the Legislature exploring so many ways to reduce voter participation? It’s a wrong-headed, partisan approach that will create barriers to casting a ballot.

Florida voters deserve better. If the Legislature wants to see how transparent, efficient and secure elections can work, they need look no further than Pinellas County.

Ken Welch served as a Pinellas County Commissioner for 20 years and is a candidate for mayor of St. Petersburg.