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Pinellas County
Pinellas officials tout smooth election
Voter turnout at 72 percent and counting
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Photo by ALEXANDRA LUNDAHL
Election volunteers at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections in Largo sort mail-in ballots on election night. The volunteers sort by security envelopes, outside envelopes and ballots. They mix up the security ballots first so that it is impossible to pair a ballot with the name of the person who voted so that they are kept secret.
It might not have set a record, but voter turnout for the Nov. 6 general election was good – just over 72 percent and counting.

Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said she was pleased with the election process this year.

“Things went smoothly,” she said. “Even this morning when we had rain, bless their hearts, the voters stood in the rain (waiting to vote).”

According to unofficial results posted at the Elections Office website, votepinellas.com, 451,496 of 626,348 registered voters cast a ballot at the polls, either during early voting or by mail ballot. The 72.08 percent wasn’t enough to break the record of 77.47 percent from 2004, but 2012 numbers came close to the 72.81 percent turnout in 2008.

Election staff had worried that the two-page ballot might cause problems at the scanner with voters not waiting until prompted to feed their second card into the machine, potentially causing jams.

“But that didn’t happen,” Clark said. “The voters were good about following directions. And the Elections staff was well trained.”

Clark talked about the continued success of mail ballot requests, which set a record this election. As of Nov. 5, Pinellas County residents had requested 307,764 mail ballots and 72.5 percent had been returned. The previous record of 258,606 ballot requests was set during the 2010 general election.

Clark said the mail ballots were helpful due to people wanting more time to read over the 11 state amendments.

“I think that’s why we had so many mail in ballot requested, because voters were communicating they needed more time,” she said.

About 100,000 mail ballots were delivered in person to an Elections Office or official drop-off location rather than mailed, she said.

Elections workers called it a night with about 9,500 mail ballots and at least 171 provisional left to count. Nancy Whitlock explained that the ballots had come from drop-off locations and would take hours to process. She said they had to be logged in, signatures verified before they can be scanned. The Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday to process the rest of the ballots.

Nancy Whitlock, Elections Administrator, said everything was going good at the polls.

“It’s been really busy,” she said.

Whitlock did take a moment to talk about a few minor problems, including erroneous robocalls that went out Tuesday morning to people who had not returned requested mail ballots. The calls informed the voters that they had until 7 p.m. “tomorrow” to return their ballots to an Elections Office.

Whitlock explained that the calls were set up to go out on Thursday and Monday. The calls that went out Tuesday morning were ones left stuck in the queue from Monday night, Whitlock said.

“We corrected the message and sent calls to the same people,” she said. “Within the hour, we had connected with all but about 200.”

Whitlock apologize for the error.

“We’re really sorry this happened,” she said. “We apologize for any confusion.”

She doesn’t think the calls should cause a problem.

“Everyone knows today is Election Day,” she said.

She also talked about a complaint from the Florida AFL-CIO about poll workers improperly refusing voters at an early voting location Saturday, Nov. 4.

According to an email from the organization, “Deborah Clark, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, failed to reach-out to the public once the error was identified. The mistake, telling voters that they needed a single form of valid identification with both their photograph and their signature, caused hundreds of voters to be turned away from the polls.”

“That’s completely baseless,” Whitlock said.

She said although state law requires that voters show both photo and signature identification, it is not necessary to be on one document. In addition, anyone who does not have the proper identification is given the option of voting a provisional ballot.

“No one would be turned away,” Whitlock said.

She said anyone who chose not to vote a provisional ballot could return and vote using a mail ballot or at the polls on Election Day.

The Elections Office also took a little heat with at least one media source due to “surprise” hours on Sunday.

“That was no surprise,” Whitlock said. “It was planned all along.”

She said the Elections Office knew there would be a big interest in this election and had made plans to make mail ballots available as much as possible. A schedule of office hours was sent out Oct. 11 stating that the Elections Office would be open Sunday, Nov. 4, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We set up big displays for mail ballots and did all we could to make it easy to vote,” she said.

Official results from the Nov. 6 election will be posted at votepinellas.com.

Juliana A. Torres contributed to this report.
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