NOTE: The Pinellas County Supervisor Of Elections office was unable to provide a response at the time of the report on October 28, 2020. CW44 News At 10 has since reached out to obtain their stance on the matter and the following article has been edited in-line on October 29, 2020 to reflect the new information.
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County discuss discrimination, long lines and a lack of early voting sites in Pinellas County.
"If they get turned down, or if they're not sure where they should drop off their ballots, or if they feel that they have been discriminated against," explained Bill Jonson, President, League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County.
The League of Women Voters of Florida isn't just for women. In fact, they're a non-partisan political organization focused on empowering all voters and giving the community courage to advocate for issues. They also partner with local organizations for election protection.
Jonson tells CW44 News At 10, among some of the most critical issues this year for voters is the fact that the county only has five early voting sites as compared to neighboring Hillsborough County, which has 26. "During the day, it's been really very busy and sometimes all the parking spaces are taken. People are parking out on the road. It's not easy to get to by public transportation," said Jonson.
This means if folks can't hitch a ride to an early voting site they'll will have to wait to vote at their local precinct. "So we made some suggestions to the supervisor of elections to increase the number of those sites and that was not acted upon during this cycle," said Jonson, whom says he noticed a consistently lower turnout in some of the minority communities across Pinellas County. To counter the noticeably lower turnout, Jonson says "our league sent out 6,600 postcards, individually written, hand-written postcards to people in those precincts encouraging them to vote."
According to Pinellas County's Deputy Supervisor of Elections Dustin Chase, Pinellas County has yet to see a wait time longer than one hour at any of the early voting sites, adding, "the vast majority of voters have waited less than 15 minutes, so clearly we have enough capacity to process all voters who wish to vote early." Chase defends that, "Pinellas County is the 65th smallest county in terms of landmass. Hillsborough County is 5 times larger per square mile than Pinellas. Thus, it stands to reason that Hillsborough would have 5 times more early voting sites."
Chase contends that the suggestion of adding more early voting sites has been addressed by unprecedented access to the ballot, stating, "Much of the success of our early voting strategy can be attributed to robust mail ballot rolls. More than 410,000 mail ballots have been sent to voters across Pinellas County. We've already counted 296,398 mail ballots."
The League of Women Voters of Florida say a point of emphasis on the ballot this year is Amendment 1 - Citizenship requirements for Florida elections. This amendment would make it so that only U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age and a permanent resident of Florida registered to vote are qualified to vote in a Florida election. If voted in, the Florida constitution's language would change from "every" eligible U.S. citizen to "only" eligible U.S. citizens residing in Florida may vote here. Voting it down would keep the current language.
While the Florida Citizen Voters group backs the amendment, the League of Women Voters of Florida opposes it. Their reasoning: "the amendment would make no substantive change to Florida's constitution which already limits voting to us citizens."
If you plan to vote by mail, you should've made sure to have gotten you ballot in the mail by Tuesday evening to allow time for it to be transported. If you forgot or didn't have time, make sure to drop it off at one of the 25 mail drop off spots across Pinellas County. This includes most libraries or Supervisor of Elections offices. For exact locations and further information, visit Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections' website.
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