A day after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called on Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark to open a polling place for early voting in south St. Petersburg, Charlie Crist echoed that call on Saturday.
“As Florida’s Governor, I signed an executive order to expand early voting hours, to ensure as many people can participate in the electoral process as possible,” Crist wrote Clark on Saturday. “It was the right thing to do. I encourage you to do the right thing for the people of Pinellas, and add an additional early voting location in South St. Petersburg.”
Clark’s office reiterated Friday that with such a high level of voting-by-mail in Pinellas County, there is no need to go beyond the locations already planned to hold early voting once it begins later next month.
In last month’s primary election, more than three quarters of all votes cast – 76 percent – came via mail, while only 2 percent occurring during early voting.
On Friday, Kriseman joined the Revs. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church and Louis Murphy of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in calling for another early polling site in South Pinellas County. Of the five early voting locations scheduled to be in use for early voting, none are in South St. Pete. The closest is at the Court House, 545 First Ave. N.
Although Crist has been accused of flip-flopping on some issues, voting rights is not one of them. The then Republican Governor of Florida alienated his GOP brothers and sisters in 2008 when, at the bequest of Democrats concerned about the lone lines at early voting locations, expanding early voting. “I have a responsibility to the voters of our state to ensure that the maximum number of citizens can participate in the electoral process and that every person can exercise the right to vote,” he said at the time, adding that, “this is not a political decision. This is a people decision.”
Here is Crist’s letter to Clark:
September 24, 2016
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections
13001 Starkey Road
Largo, FL 33773
Dear Ms. Clark,
I write this letter strongly urging you to heed the community’s request to add an early voting location in South St. Petersburg.
With extraordinary turnout levels expected for this year’s presidential election, we can assume there will once again be long lines for the people to exercise their constitutional right to vote. While civic participation is a wonderful thing, multi-hour waits can be an undue hardship for many in our community.
While voting by mail is an excellent option, many voters prefer to vote in person at the polls — and voters deserve more choices, not less. At present, many South Pinellas residents would have to travel more than five miles to reach the closest early voting site. For those without reliable transportation or those utilizing public transit, that distance presents an unreasonable barrier to voting early.
And for a community that has been historically disenfranchised, adding an early voting location in South St. Petersburg would ensure equal opportunity to take part in one of our most sacred rights of American democracy.
As Florida’s Governor, I signed an executive order to expand early voting hours, to ensure as many people can participate in the electoral process as possible. It was the right thing to do. I encourage you to do the right thing for the people of Pinellas, and add an additional early voting location in South St. Petersburg.
Thank you and God Bless,
Crist will be on the November 8 ballot, as he is attempting to oust Republican David Jolly in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.