William Myers: Are we ready for in-person voting?

Voting station
More staff means a fairer, safer election for all of us.

Early voting begins across Tampa Bay on October 19 and Election Day is 33 days away.

COVID-19 is still with us whether we want to wear masks or not. Election administrators, poll workers, and voters must now confront whether elections can be conducted safely in-person and at what cost.

Make no mistake there is a looming funding crisis around the country and across the Tampa Bay area to fund our elections. The State of Florida’s tax revenue from March to May is down 26% compared to last year at a total loss of close to $2.1 billion. County and local governments are facing their own budget crises and are in no position to provide supplemental election funding. Given that 46 states have seen revenue drops of at least 20%, it is no surprise that Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub issued a call on August 7 to the President and Members of Congress to provide state and local governments with increased election funding.

Record numbers of Americans and Floridians are expected to vote in the November 3 presidential election. Compared to 2016, the number of registered voters, as of September 23, has increased by nearly 300,000 voters across Tampa Bay counties. Hillsborough County is up 13.9%, Pinellas 13.8%, Pasco 7.6%, Polk, 8.5%, and Sarasota 3.2%.

How are County Supervisors of Elections preparing to meet the challenges of conducting a record-breaking general election during a pandemic? Florida law 100.032 requires all County Supervisors of Elections to prepare an election preparation report where they describe staffing levels during the Early Voting period and on Election Day.

Staffing levels are critical because they tell us how easy and quickly in-person voting will be and how quickly ballots will be counted. Fewer resources may mean voters across Tampa Bay who vote in-person, either during the Early Voting period or on Election Day, may find that waiting in line to vote takes too long or is too dangerous given the risk associated with COVID-19.

More staff means a fairer, safer election for all of us.

On August 1, Supervisors of Elections for Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties released their Resource Allocation Reports. The differences across counties in staffing levels during the Early Voting period and on Election Day is very concerning.

As of September 23, the two most competitive Tampa Bay counties are Pinellas and Pasco; the balance between registered Democrats and Republicans is under 10,000. Pinellas County has 699,599 registered voters and only 155 workers during the Early Voting Period or about 2 workers per 10,000 registered voters.

In comparison, Polk County has 461,936 registered voters and 560 workers during the Early Voting period or about 12 workers per 10,000 registered voters.

Pinellas County has more than one-and-a-half times the number of registered voters than Polk County, but Polk County has 10 times the number of election workers. The difference in staffing levels is dramatic and will have major consequences: early voting in Democratic-leaning Pinellas County will be much more difficult than early voting in Republican-leaning Polk County.

The problem will continue on Election Day.

The two most populous counties, Hillsborough and Pinellas, have far fewer election day workers than their four less populous neighbors in Manatee, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.

Hillsborough County has 915,710 registered voters and 2,244 workers on Election Day or about 25 workers per 10,000 registered voters.

Pasco County, in comparison, has 387,183 registered voters and 1,400 workers on Election Day or about 36 workers per 10,000 registered voters.

Democratic-leaning Hillsborough County has 2.4 times more voters than Republican-leaning Pasco County but has 1.5 times fewer election workers.

Images of people standing in long lines to vote or worse, giving up, will be much more likely in Hillsborough County than in Pasco County.

These dramatic differences in staffing levels for the November 3 presidential election should trouble all of us and send warning signs about our right to vote.

Unless there are more financial resources to equalize the differences in Early Voting and Election Day staffing across Tampa Bay counties, it will be either easier or more difficult to exercise your right to vote only because of where you live.

If everyone’s votes count the same, if one person really does mean one vote, then voting needs to be equally accessible to all Floridians.


Dr. William M. Myers is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Tampa. He also serves as a board member of the American Constitution Society, Tampa Lawyer Chapter. Myers can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @themyersproject.

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