Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 19, at five Pinellas locations

With only 15 days before the Nov. 3 Election Day, five locations across Pinellas County will open their doors for early voting, which begins Monday, Oct. 19.

Early voting is scheduled from Oct. 19-Nov. 1 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at five locations, including:

• County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Room 117, Clearwater. Voter parking spots will be designated in courthouse parking lots.

• Election Service Center, 13001 Starkey Road, Starkey Lakes Corporate Center, Largo.

• Supervisor of Elections Office, County Building, 501 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg.

• The Centre of Palm Harbor, 1500 16th St., Palm Harbor.

• SPC Allstate Center, 3200 34th St. S., St. Petersburg.

Voters can go to any early voting site. They will be required to present both picture and signature identification. Voters who do not bring both types of ID will be required to vote a provisional ballot.

As of Oct. 14, 125,266 registered voters in Pinellas had already cast a ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

According to information at the supervisor of election’s website, that’s 17.61% of the 711,170 eligible voters.

More Democrats had returned their ballot, 60,404, to 38,5567 Republicans, 24,913 registered as no party affiliates and 1,382 as other.

Mail ballots must be returned to an elections office by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.

Elections officials announced that a historic number of mail ballots were sent out domestic voters on Sept. 29 — 363,312. The previous record was 321,979 sent out for the 2020 primary election. The elections office mailed 262,242 ballots for the 2016 presidential election.

Of the ballots mailed on Sept. 29, 153,438 went out to voters registered as Democrats, 126,052 to registered Republicans and 83,822 to those registered as no party affiliation and other.

In addition, 5,400 ballots were mailed to absent military and overseas voters.

As of Oct. 10, according to information on the Supervisor of Elections website, 711,236 voters were registered to vote in Pinellas, including 255,425 Democrats, 250,350 Republicans and 205,461 registered as other.

Officials urge residents to request a mail ballot to avoid lines at the polls during early voting and on Election Day.

Mail ballot requests will be sent out as they are received. To request a mail ballot, visit VotePinellas.com, call 727-464-VOTE (8683) or email MailBallot@VotePinellas.com. The deadline to request that a ballot be mailed is 5 p.m. Oct. 24.

Voters should allow at least one week for their ballot to be returned by mail to the elections office.

Voters can drop off their mail ballots at an Elections office, or at one of 25 remote ballot drop-off sites throughout county. Drop-off sites will be open from Oct. 19-Nov. 2. Visit VotePinellas.com for hours and locations.

Voted mail ballots cannot be accepted at polling places on Election Day, though voters can turn them in to an election worker and vote their ballot in person.

Local referendum

Pinellas County voters will be asked to decide yes or no to continue the one-half mill ad valorem tax that goes to help pay for school operating expenses. If approved, it would continue the tax until June 30, 2025. The money now must be shared with Charter schools by state law.

Pinellas County voters have supported the renewal of the half-mill property tax every four years since it was first approved in 2004. An independent committee oversees the distribution of funds to ensure that money is spent as voters intended, according to information at https://www.pcsb.org/referendum.

The money helps recruit and retain teachers: Eighty percent of the Referendum revenue supplements teacher salaries. In 2020, each teacher received a salary supplement of $5,231 as part of their base salary.

The referendum supports students through new or expanded classroom libraries, additional supplies, increased training opportunities for teachers and updated computers and technology.

It funds intensive small-group literacy programs that help students read at grade level, instrument rental fees for students that can't afford them and paid admission for field trips to museums and art galleries.

It provides all schools with equitable funding for quality art supplies, equipment and technology that help students produce strong and award-winning works of art.

The referendum helps pay for music, theater and dance equipment, technology, sound systems, uniforms and materials that support Pinellas County Schools’ performing arts programs.

Six constitutional amendments need yes or no answers.

A yes vote to amendment one would mean that only United States citizens who are at least 18 years of age, a permanent resident of Florida, and registered to vote, as provided by law, would be qualified to vote in a Florida election.

A yes to amendment two would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour effective Sept. 30, 2021 and continue to increase the wage by $1 every year on Sept. 30 until it reaches $15 an hour on Sept. 30, 2026. After that, future minimum wage increases would be adjusted annually (on Sept. 30) based on inflation.

According to information with the ballot question, approval of amendment two is estimated to have a net negative impact on the state’s budget and may result in higher taxes or loss of government services.

Approval of amendment three would end closed primaries for state offices. Voters will be asked to say yes or no to allowing all registered voters to vote in primaries for state legislature, governor and cabinet regardless of political affiliation. All candidates would appear on the same ballot and the two highest vote-getters would be to advance to the general election. If only two candidates qualify for an election, no primary would be held and they would both advance to the general election. Candidates’ party affiliation may appear on the ballot as required by law. If approved, the amendment would be effective Jan. 1, 2024.

According to information with the question, the change could cost additional costs to local governments with little effect to the cost of elections to the state.

If voters say yes to amendment four, future amendments or revisions to the state constitution would have to be done by voter approval in two elections, not one election as it is now.

Approval could mean higher costs to state and local governments to conduct future elections, dependent on the number of ballot questions included in each election, according to information with the question. The potential impact to the budget is not known.

A yes vote to amendment five would increase the time during which accrued Save-Our-Homes benefits could be transferred from a prior homestead to a future homestead from 2 years to three years, effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Approval of amendment six would mean the additional homestead property tax discount given to certain veterans with permanent combat disabilities would carry over to their surviving spouse who holds legal or beneficial title to and permanently lives on the property until the spouse remarries or disposes of the property. The spouse could transfer the discount could transfer the discount only under certain conditions. If approved the discount would take effect Jan. 2, 2021.

Municipal elections

A number of municipalities have charter amendments or referendum questions on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Belleair Beach and Belleair Bluffs each have five charter amendments on the ballots. Largo has two charter amendments and Madeira Beach has six.

Clearwater has one referendum question and Tarpon Springs also has one.

Registered voters in Dunedin will be deciding between incumbent Julie Ward Bujalski and Heather Gracy for the mayor’s job and between Mike Quill and John Tornga for city commissioner Seat 3.

Largo voters will have to pick either incumbent Curtis Holmes or challenger Eric Gerard for city commissioner Seat 3.

In Seminole, voters will be asked to pick two from a field of three for council member. The choices are Tom Christy, Roger Edelman and James Joseph Quinn.

For more information on the Nov. 3 elections, visit votepinellas.com.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.