Clearing up the voting confusion

BY DEIRDRE O’LEARY, Staff Writer

PINELLAS COUNTY — Why is voting so confusing? You used to go on Election Day to the polling place, wait in line, vote and go home. End of story.

Now we are faced with an array of choices that presumably help us to vote by giving us more options and flexibility. But the confusion that results could be an obstacle to those who are unable or unwilling to navigate the terrain. Could this be a form of voter suppression? Some people think so.

Now that early voting has begun, we will attempt to clarify and simplify the process. All addresses and locations can be found on the Supervisor of Elections website votepinellas.com or by calling the office.

VOTE BY MAIL.  If you would prefer to mail in your ballot, you can still request one be sent to you until Oct. 24 at 5 p.m.  The Supervisor of Elections has an online form you can fill out at votepinellas.com, or you can call 727-464-VOTE (8683).

You don’t need a reason to vote by mail, such as being out of town.  According to the Supervisor of Elections website, if you have an emergency and submit an affidavit saying so, you may pick up and return the ballot on Election Day.  However, this conflicts with other information on their site, which states Nov. 2 is the last day to drop off ballots.

You won’t need a stamp as the ballots are postage paid.  You can choose to mail it back or drop it off at one of 25 drop-off locations.  And if you want to drop it off without getting out of your car, you can go to one of four drive-thru sites, including Tropicana Field, the Gulfport Neighborhood Center and EpiCenter at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater.

The 25 drop-off sites will be open only until Nov. 2 and will be closed on Election Day, Nov 3.  Hours vary by location so check in advance.

Beware: Florida law requires that mailed-in ballots be received by Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at any elections office.  A postmark will not do — the ballot must be received by Election Day.  Do not delay if you plan to mail in your ballot.

It is imperative to sign the ballot envelope — and the signature must match the signature on your driver’s license or voter registration card.  If not, your ballot may not be counted.

If you obtained a mail ballot but change your mind, you can still vote in person.  The Supervisor of Elections website advises you to bring the ballot with you, but in a recent interview Supervisor Julie Marcus said that is not necessary.  Better safe than sorry — bring it with you.

VOTE EARLY IN PERSON.  Pinellas County has only five early voting locations that are open now until Nov. 1 from 7-7 p.m.  Three of the locations are the Supervisor of Elections offices.  The other two are The Centre of Palm Harbor and the SPC Allstate Center.

The process is just like voting on Election Day: you provide both picture and signature identification, fill out a ballot and put it through the scanner.  You may go to any of the five locations.  Note that these sites are only open until Nov. 1 — the ballot drop-off sites are open until Nov 2.

VOTE IN PERSON ON ELECTION DAY.  Polls are open 7-7 p.m. on Nov. 3.  You must provide both picture and signature identification. You must go to your assigned polling place.  Check with the Supervisor of Elections office if you are unsure of your polling place.

PROVISIONAL BALLOTS.  These are to be avoided if possible, as studies have shown they are typically not counted. Provisional ballots are required if your ballot has an issue that may make it invalid, such as you do not show proper identification on Election Day.  You may also have one if you forget to sign the ballot envelope for a mail-in or drop-off ballot or if the elections office decides the signature does not match their records.  The elections office has until Nov. 8 to “cure” any problems with ballots.

Counting ballots began 22 days before the election. Click here to see when your ballot was received and counted. In this regard, Florida is progressive; many states do not allow ballots to be counted until Election Day.

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