Pinellas County is set to add two more early voting sites for the 2022 midterm elections, Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus announced Friday at a County Commission meeting.
The addition comes in response to record high usage of in-person early voting sites in the county for the 2020 presidential election, Marcus said. The two new sites will be placed in the Countryside and Tyrone/Lealman areas.
“The data supports adding more sites to meet the needs of those voters choosing to vote early,” Marcus said at the meeting.
During her presentation, Marcus explained the factors that go into determining the placement of the new sites and noted the addition of new voting locations does not always ease lines or quicken access. The elections office must consider things like state requirements, nearness to public transit and accessibility.
“It is very important to note that just because you add a site or you move an early voting site does not mean you are making it easier or faster for voters to vote,” Marcus said. “For example, if you have a small facility that does not accommodate a large group of people, all you’re doing is creating lines and wait times. So there is a lot of considerations that go into the number of sites and where those sites need to be located.”
In 2022, Marcus added, 91% of the county’s voters will be within 5 miles of an early voting site, and all voters will be within 3 miles of a mail ballot drop box.
The news comes after years of calls to add more early voting sites by community advocates, who were directed to the county’s vote-by-mail system by former Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.
Marcus touched on mail-in ballots, noting that 52% of the county’s voters — more than 367,000 people — have a mail-in ballot request on file.
“We have seen an increase in the number of voters voting prior to Election Day, reaching record numbers in 2020,” Marcus said. “With our continued efforts to ensure voters are educated about their voting options, we expect this trend to continue for Pinellas voters. Mail ballots have been the preferred method for casting ballots. Mail ballots are convenient, they’re secure, and they are reasonable.”
To continue to meet needs, Marcus said the office’s budget must include return postage and the costs associated with maintaining 25 mail ballot drop off locations throughout the county. The elections office budget will also need to include costs for the new voting sites, and three additional classified positions.
Marcus also announced that the county will begin to use a new system to audit election results, starting with the August St. Petersburg election. That software, called ClearAudit, from the Boston-based Clear Ballot Group, is already in use by some Florida counties, including Hillsborough. Marcus said that’s separate from the county’s tabulation system and is used to ensure vote totals match.