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Tampa City Council asks Bob Buckhorn’s staff to post election info online

“We’re going to complain about the turnout and we don’t even have it on our website.”

Tampa City Council members voted unanimously Thursday to have city staff place information about the upcoming municipal election on its website.

Currently, the only election info publicly available is on the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections website.

“We’re going to complain about the turnout and we don’t even have it on our website. That’s just beyond belief to me,” Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said. She lamented that Mayor Bob Buckhorn did not include the information online.

City Council member Frank Reddick brought the issue up because he received an abundance of correspondence from voters complaining they weren’t aware of early voting hours or locations.

Many voters also commented that early voting hours made it difficult to find time to cast a ballot.

While polls are open Election Day from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., early voting hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., working hours for many.

Capin said most people are at work by 10 and even if they leave work before 6, it may not be enough time to get to an early voting location because traffic in Tampa is so bad.

“We have that problem where people can’t get to where they’re going within the time they need,” Capin said.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer addressed concerns noting that early voting hours are determined based on historic voter turnout data. His office submitted the current schedule to the Mayor’s office and it was approved.

Latimer said this year’s early voting hours are the same as previous municipal elections.

But he also said his office expects higher turnout in this race. Turnout in 2011 the last time there was a competitive mayoral race on the ballot was just 22 percent. If turnout this year exceeds that it doesn’t just mean more voters based on 2011 numbers, it’s an even higher volume of voters because there are now more registered voters in the city.

In 2011 there were about 190,000 registered voters. Now there are 231,000, Latimer said.

Council member Charlie Miranda voted with his peers to include election information on the city’s website, but also lamented people should already know there’s an election coming in less than two weeks.

“When you talk about money just in this election alone, I guarantee you there’s $3.5 to $4 million being spent,” Miranda said. “If the people don’t know there’s an election … if that doesn’t increase [voter turnout] we’ve got problems and it ain’t us.”

Latimer echoed that sentiment adding that estimates show for every mail or sample ballot his office sends to voters they receive ten election-related pieces of mail from campaigns.

While the Council approved its request to have information on the city’s website, it is just that — a request. It does not mandate city staff follow through.

However, the public request is a strong statement to the administration to follow through.

Latimer also delivered the City Council invocation during its regular meeting, ending it with a joke about the upcoming municipal race.

“We pray that whoever wins, wins big so we don’t have a recount,” Latimer said.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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