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Voter turnout in St. Pete on pace to be low

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, voter turnout in St. Pete was at 13.24 percent, most coming from mail-in ballots returned early. In the first three hours of Election Day, just 1.86 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot.

The numbers are indicative of what has been a trickle at polling places. Even during the peak voting times between 7 and 9 a.m. only a handful of voters showed up at Pinellas Community Church in South St. Pete. That’s one of the city’s busiest polling locations with voters from three precincts all casting a ballot there.

According to City Council candidate Will Newton, another busy polling place, the Coliseum, was also slow.

That’s why his campaign isn’t wasting any manpower on sign-waving efforts at busy intersections. Newton’s campaign manager, Steve Lapinski, said the campaign will instead focus its resources on volunteers staffing precincts at peak times and calling voters who’ve yet to cast their ballot.

According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, more than 60,000 mail ballots were sent to voters who requested them. Of those, a little  more than 20,000 were returned, about 33 percent.

Whether those extra 40,000 voters will instead vote at a precinct isn’t clear.

During the Aug. 25 Primary that was closed to just 19,000 District 7 voters, 35 percent of the 6,235 requested mail ballots were returned. That accounted for

80 percent of all ballots. Total voter turnout was 14.8 percent.

If absentee voters represent 80 percent of total turnout as it did in the Primary, Election Day in Tuesday’s General Election would only see little more than 5,000 voters. However, more than 3,000 have already cast a ballot.

Peak voting times also occur around lunch time and again as voters head home from work. Even if the 10 a.m. figure triples throughout the rest of the day though, voter turnout would still be only about 18 percent.

During the last City Council General Election in 2013 voter turnout was 34.2 percent, but that election included the mayoral race between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Bill Foster.

Even the 2013 Primary saw high voter turnout rates with 31.5 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. Again, that election was unique because it included the contentious vote asking whether or not the city should cancel its contract with architects to build the Pier design known as the Lens.

This election contains only one high-profile race and that is between District 7 candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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