St. Petersburg Takes Important Steps Towards Early Voting for City Elections

TALLAHASSEE  All Voting is Local Florida State Director Brad Ashwell issued the following statement in response to the St. Petersburg City Council’s passage of a resolution that will better enable the city to offer early voting in future elections. 

“This resolution takes important steps towards ensuring the ability to vote early in future city elections. At a time when politicians in Florida are lifting up conspiracy theories to create intentional barriers to vote, the St. Petersburg’s City Council has done the right thing by making the ballot box more accessible to all its residents. Now, they must go one step further by moving the municipal election to even numbered years to coincide with state and county elections. 

“More than 100,000 people in Pinellas County voted early in the 2020 election, showing just how popular early voting is in the area. This promising decision in St. Petersburg should provide a reminder to local officials throughout Florida that early voting options must be part of all elections to ensure easier access to the ballot.”

Background:

The resolution passed today by city council members clarifies the process by which the members may request early voting for municipal elections. This is an important step toward restoring early voting to St. Petersburg’s elections that was spurred on by local residents, community leaders, and civil rights groups. Since 2006, when Florida cities were given the option to offer early voting for their elections, St. Petersburg has only offered early voting once, in 2017. It was only offered that election because there was also a Pinellas county-wide election taking place. The lack of early voting options for the recent high profile mayoral race caused obvious confusion and created clear hurdles for those who would prefer to vote early after early voting had been more popular in Pinellas County during the 2020 elections than in previous elections. 

Early voting in the county has seen a steady rise with 112,201 residents voting early in 2020, up from 78,166 in 2016. The decision to provide early voting for municipal elections is made by the city who must make a request to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections to administer the election while the city must cover the costs. To ensure that costs do not present a barrier to offering early voting in future elections, the city must now take action to move municipal elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years so that they coincide with state elections such as gubernatorial elections. The Supervisor of Elections wrote a letter to council members saying that conducting elections “on-cycle” in even years would greatly reduce operational costs.