The importance of early voting for the Black community

“It is up to voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box and help create a stronger democracy in our city,” Bishop Manuel Sykes.

BY BISHOP MANUEL SYKES, Bethel Community Baptist Church

ST. PETERSBURG — Voting on Sunday before Election Day has always been beneficial to the Black community. For years, Souls to the Polls events have significantly increased the number of people participating in the democratic process.

They create greater interest among voters, provide transport for people to get to the polls for early voting and, in particular, help senior citizens vote.

Telling people who work all day that they can only vote on that Election Day Tuesday between certain hours is terribly unfair. And yet, this will be the case for the Aug. 24 Primary Election and, at least for now, the Nov. 2 General Election in St. Petersburg.

The November ballot will include a critical issue for the Black community in St. Petersburg: single-member districts. Currently, a candidate of color can have the support of their community to represent their city council district, but to win a seat on the council, they must win enough votes in an at-large election in which all city voters cast ballots.

This system has been used all over the United States to dilute the vote of minority communities and exclude Black officeholders. The November ballot includes an opportunity to create single-member districts whose representatives will be chosen by voters only from each district.

The current system is unfair. Why does someone chosen by our community to communicate our issues and needs also have to appeal to people from all over the city who have other issues and needs? All that does is dilute our voice. We need to change that system.

To date, it is still uncertain whether early voting will be utilized in Pinellas County leading up to Election Day in November. But the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office said unless the city changes course, requests it, and agrees to pay for it, it won’t happen.

Local officials can choose to do this thing right. The city said it would cost money to schedule early voting.

The questions we have: How much can it cost to provide early voting? Meanwhile, what is the cost to our society and our democracy when we allow voter suppression?

If ignored, the failure to provide access to the polls would add to the nationwide scheme launched all across the U.S. to stifle voting by people of color.

My hope is that people will overcome the obstacles that have been put in front of them. Politicians have a responsibility to address affronts to the democratic system. America’s DNA ensures that people will not just lie down and have their rights denied them. And those local elected officials who seek to work against democracy should also realize how vital the votes of people of color could be to them in the future.

It is also up to voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box and help create a stronger democracy in our city. To participate in the Aug. 24 primaries, you must be registered by Monday, July 26.

Qualified citizens can register online or in-person at one of three Supervisor of Elections offices. You can also get in touch with groups, such as the ACLU of Florida and Equal Ground Education to help you understand your voting rights.

The city of St. Petersburg has the power to make voting fair and accessible to its residents. The City Council must implement early voting for the November election. We have a chance to correct our city’s unfair system through the power of our vote, and that moment is now.


St. Pete residents have only until Monday, July 26, to register for the Aug. 24 Primary Elections in St. Petersburg.

In those primaries, candidates for mayor and three of the eight city council seats will be chosen, seats 1, 4, and 8. Final balloting will be in November.

All registration applications must be received by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office by 5 p.m. Monday.

To register online, go to

To register in-person, go to one of these three locations:

County Building

501 First Avenue North, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 (Fifth Street North entrance)

Office Hours: 8 a.m. -5 p.m.

Monday through Friday

Elections Service Center

Starkey Lakes Corporate Center, 13001 Starkey Road, Largo, FL 33773

Telephone: (727) 464-VOTE (8683)

Office Hours: 8 a.m. -5 p.m.

Monday through Friday

Pinellas County Courthouse

315 Court Street, Room 117, Clearwater, FL 33756

Office Hours: 8 a.m. -5 p.m.

Monday through Friday

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