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Local voters cast long ballots today

Mark Parker

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As of 2:50 p.m., nearly 366,000 eligible Pinellas County voters cast their ballots. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Nearly 700,000 active, eligible Pinellas County voters have the opportunity to exercise their civic duty and help decide dozens of local, state and national races today.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, and about 40% of county voters cast their ballots by 8 a.m. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office received the vast majority of those – around 230,000 – by mail. As of 2:50 p.m., the unofficial turnout was 365,969, or 52.6% of voters.

While those numbers are significantly higher than the August primary, Deputy Supervisor of Elections Dustin Chase told the Catalyst that turnout lagged slightly behind the 2018 general election coming into Tuesday. However, he said participation has picked up throughout the day.

“We’ve had a phenomenal turnout on Election Day today,” said Chase. “And we’re looking forward to seeing what the next six hours bring.”

Chase said he was unaware of any hiccups or challenges at 1 p.m. and called the process “very smooth.” Polling places are open until 7 p.m. Tuesday, and Julie Marcus, Supervisor of Elections, tweeted a reminder to residents that they must only vote at specified locations.

People cannot vote at the county’s Elections Offices, although they can drop off mailed ballots at three locations around Pinellas: the Election Service Center at 13001 Starkey Rd. in Largo; the Pinellas County Courthouse at 315 Court St., Room 117, in Clearwater; and the County Building at 501 1st Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.

Chase said it was “pretty standard” for people to think they could vote at the offices but noted the Constitution requires residents to vote in their precinct. While the Elections Office doesn’t keep an hour-by-hour count turnout count for comparison, he explained that officials receive ballots in three waves.

The first wave, said Chase, occurs after the polls open and before people go to work. The lunch hour is another busy time, and he said there is typically a lull until the end of the business day.

“So, it will pick up after five again,” he stated.

Voters will have to wait until after the polls close at 7 p.m. to see updates on a lengthy ballot. The VOTE411 informational guide, found here, lists 33 selections for St. Petersburg residents. The total will vary according to a person’s address.

A look inside the canvassing boardroom during the 2021 municipal election. Photo by Mark Parker.

Municipal voters will decide on four key initiatives that could help shape the city’s future – two charter amendments and two ballot referendums.

Amendment 1 will decide whether St. Petersburg reschedules voting to align with state and national elections during even-numbered years. The change provides for an early voting mechanism and could increase turnout over the current schedule, which insulates city elections from the larger races.

However, it would also cause lengthier ballots and likely increase the cost of running for local office.

Amendment 2, if approved, would change city council residency requirements to accommodate the decennial redistricting process. That would allow council members in redrawn districts to complete their duly elected terms.

Referendum 1 regards amending The Dali Museum’s 99-year lease agreement with the city. It would allow The Dali to build on a 40-foot wide, 170-foot long strip of land known as Lot 6 and zoned as waterfront property if approved. Currently, the space serves as one access point for the Mahaffey Theater’s parking garage.

The referendum does not concern potential funding sources or design plans.

Referendum 2 would grant city officials the authority to provide property tax exemptions to businesses over a 10-year term. Residents approved the measure by nearly 67% in 2011.

However, a subsequent referendum to reinstate the exemptions failed by just 87 votes in Nov. 2021. The criteria are strict, and participants still require city council’s approval. Business and political leaders believe it is critical to attracting new and expanding businesses.

Eyes across the state will be on Tampa Bay for the gubernatorial contest, as both candidates will spend election night in the area. Governor Ron DeSantis will watch the results in downtown Tampa, while former governor and U.S. Rep Charlie Crist will remain in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

The Elections Office will begin releasing results of those and dozens of other races after 7 p.m. and release the first set of unofficial results Friday. Chase said official results, barring any recounts, could come as soon as Nov. 18.

“It’s just been a really smooth sailing election, and today has been smooth sailing also,” he said. “We’ll see how tonight goes.”

For voter information, visit the Supervisor of Elections website here.

 

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