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What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

Early Voting Lines Form Across Tampa Bay, Even As Mail-In Ballot Requests Increase

People wearing masks wait in line at a polling station. A sandwich board in front of them announces it is also a vote by mail ballot drop off location.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
A line of people winds around the Regency Park Branch Library in New Port Richey on the first day of early voting.

Voters in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, Manatee, Polk, and Hernando counties headed to the polls Monday, the first day of early voting for the 2020 general election.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election got underway throughout the Tampa Bay region Monday.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said within the first hour of opening the polls, over 2,000 people had already voted.

"People are enthused. They want to go vote. It is a little slower," he said. "We're not allowing a whole lot of people into the polling room, we're social distancing, we're wiping things down."

Kyron Williams and Nyree Williams standing near each other outside wearing masks near a Riverview polling site.
Jessica Meszaros/WUSF Public Media
Kyron Williams, 20, and his mother Nyree Williams voted early together at the Riverview Branch Library. The main issues they're concerned about are racial equality and climate change.

But Latimer said vote-by-mail is more popular now than it has ever been. He said the shift began in March during the presidential preference primary.

"For the first time ever, we had over 50% of our voters voted by mail. And then in the August primary, we had 68% of the people that voted voted by mail. So it is popular, people are taking advantage of it," Latimer said.

It's not too late to order a vote-by-mail ballot, he said. The deadline to request one is no later than 5 p.m. on the 10th day before the election. Voters can drop it off as late as 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus said she's seeing the same trend: over 400,000 Pinellas voters requested mail-in ballots for this election — the most ever in her county.

Ray and Jennifer Martinez wearing masks standing in line outside of a Riverview polling site to vote early.
Jessica Meszaros/WUSF Public Media
Ray and Jennifer Martinez, husband and wife, came to vote early together at Riverview Branch Library. Coronavirus and education are the main issues they're concerned about.

"So that's an amazing, amazing community effort of wanting to vote at home," said Marcus. "We also then paid for prepaid postage for the primary and general, and we'll do that moving forward. We also increased the number of our ballot drop-off locations and our drive-thru locations so that voters could get in and out as quickly as possible."

Even with that option becoming more popular, Marcus said that at 6 a.m. Monday, there was already a line of people waiting to vote early at a St. Petersburg location.

"But those voters, as soon as the polls opened, were in and that first line was in and out of there in 30 minutes. So, outstanding," she said. "I'm happy to see the enthusiasm and also that the the process is going smoothly."

There was also a fast-moving line at the Riverview Branch Library polling site in Hillsborough County on Monday. Kyron Williams, 20, voted with his mother there.

Herb and Maria Valdez wearing masks standing outside the Riverview Branch Library to vote early.
Jessica Meszaros/WUSF Public Media
Herb and Maria Valdez, husband and wife, voted early at the Riverview Branch Library. Their main concern was for people to get out and vote.

"I feel good knowing that I'm able to make a change at this age because a lot of people, I mean people of my color, they fought to vote," he said. "There's a lot of protests, a lot of stuff going on. What's the point of protesting if you're not going to show up to vote?"

For Jennifer Martinez, who also voted at the same site with her husband, coronavirus and education were on the forefront of her mind.

"My kids are home doing virtual school — big concern for me how that's being managed," she said. "I can't work in the office. I'm working from home as well. It's just causing a lot of chaos. I just want to see better leadership with it, just hoping that we can have anything that will help us get back to normal."

Fellow Riverview voter Herb Valdez said voting is a right. He said if people don't vote, they shouldn't complain.

"If you don't like the way things are done, you vote. If you like the way things are done, you vote," he said. "I'm hoping for united people. That's what I'm hoping for."

You can see a county-by-county list of early voting sites in the Tampa Bay region here.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.
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