PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Your safety is top of mind as local election leaders plan for the upcoming presidential primary in August and general election in November.
Election leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay are urging you to consider signing up for a mail-in ballot as COVID-19 concerns linger.
Alan Martin lives in Largo and says he’s mailed a ballot in for the past six years.
“It’s very easy, they just send it to you in the mail and it’s a very good process,” he said.
It’s an option growing in popularity across Florida. Over a 4 year period, Pinellas County election leaders saw a 600% increase in voters signing up for mail ballots. Now, with COVID-19 concerns, they expect to see another surge of voters signing up before the upcoming elections.
Julie Marcus, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, says it’s all about safety.
“It’s really coming together as a community to do your part, be safe, vote by mail, so folks who have to vote in person, we can protect them too,” she explained.
Pinellas County leaders hope by mailing in ballots, there will be fewer chances for COVID-19 to spread. Some Tampa Bay area election leaders are also worried about a lack of poll workers. In March, hundreds of poll workers quit over coronavirus fears just days before the presidential preference election.
Pinellas and Hillsborough County leaders are sending out postcards and emails letting people know about how to sign up for mail-in ballots. Both counties are even opting to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover your postage.
“I don’t use mail that often so it’s like every time it comes I have to go to the post office and buy stamps so I think that’s a great idea,” Martin explained.
In the upcoming elections, you’ll also have another option besides dropping the ballot into your mailbox or at a USPS mail drop site. Pinellas County is adding eight new drop off ballot boxes for a total of 23 countywide, where your ballot is picked up by election workers and taken directly to the Supervisor of Elections Office to be counted.
“No voter has to drive more than 3 miles to get to a ballot drop off location, so voting has never been easier,” Marcus explained.
But just how safe are mail ballots?
President Donald Trump tweeted this Tuesday: “There is no way (zero!) that mail-in ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged and even illegally printed out and fraudulently signed.”
Pinellas election leaders say they wholeheartedly disagree.
“There’s going to be a lot of information out there that is not true and it does concern us because it may impact negatively voter turnout,” Marcus added.
Officials say every mail-in ballot is analyzed by election officials to ensure your signature matches the one on file and any questionable ballots are inspected in person by a canvassing board. Election leaders say for anyone still feeling uncomfortable, they’re welcome to continue to vote in person.
“The bottom line is go out and vote. That’s the key,” Martin added.
Mail ballots will be mailed 35 days before the election in August and November and 45 days before the elections to overseas military members.