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Read our current and previous coverage of the 2018 election season as you prepare to cast your ballot. You'll find information on important races, explanations of constitutional amendments and details of local referendums.

Early Voting Begins In Tampa Bay Amid Concerns Over Election Security

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Volunteers and staff set up the early voting site at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office off Falkenburg Road on Friday.

Residents are headed to early voting sites across Tampa Bay this week, while politicians and elections officials try figure out whether Florida's voting system has been hacked.

Voters in Hillsborough County will be the first to cast their ballots at a polling place, with 19 locations opening on Monday.

In Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties early voting starts Saturday, Aug. 18.

Many counties have expanded the number of sites this year because early voting has become more popular and the population has increased in some areas.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner says his office has added new sites at North Sarasota Library and Westfield Sarasota Square.

"We've mailed out more than 60,000 vote-by-mail ballots," said Turner. "Some people are more traditional and like to vote in person. Early voting gives them that option without necessarily having to show up on Election Day."

Pasco County, one of the country's fastest growing counties, will add new polling sites in Wesley Chapel, Land O' Lakes and Odessa because of an increased number of residents.

Last week, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson threw the security of Florida's elections into doubt by saying Russians have "penetrated" the voting system. He would not elaborate on which specific counties are affected, saying the information was classified.

"I and several of my Senate colleagues are trying to make sure Florida officials are aware of the ongoing Russian threat so they take the steps necessary to safeguard our elections," Nelson said in a statement Friday.

"It's unfortunate that some Florida officials would try to use this issue for personal, political gain."

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said state officials have not been made aware of any incidents of hacking and he has asked Congress to back up Nelson's claims. Florida elections officials recently received more than $14 million to shore up their cyber security.

In Hillsborough County, Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer fielded questions from reporters about whether or not voting machines or voter rolls had been accessed by hackers. Latimer said he was confident in the safeguards his office has in place and that voters shouldn't be deterred.

"The whole thing with this is trying to undermine our election, we saw this in 2016," he said. "People need to stand up to it, and people need to come out and cast their vote."

Latimer encouraged people to check their voter registration status online before heading to the polls. Early voting in most Tampa Bay counties will end on August 25, three days before Election Day.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.