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Election officials gear up for early voting, while mail-in ballots are returned

TAMPA, Fla. — Election officials are gearing up for early voting which starts Monday, October 19 in the Tampa Bay area.This week, officials started setting up equipment inside Amalie Arena, one of 26 early voting sites in Hillsborough County.“We’re expecting a robust turnout,” said Craig Latimer, the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.This year, voters will find plexiglass barriers, 6 ft. markers, socially distanced privacy booths, pens to take home and sanitizing measures.“We want a safe and healthy environment having said that and we’re gonna continue to say it we’re not gonna be allowing a whole lot of people in a polling room we’re gonna keep those numbers down we’re following CDC guidelines,” said Latimer.He said poll workers will wear masks. Hillsborough County currently has a mask mandate.“We’re not gonna deny somebody a constitutional right to vote over a city ordinance or a county ordinance,” he said.Latimer urged people not to wait.“Don’t wait until the last weekend. You’re definitely going to be standing in line if you wait until the last weekend. There may be a wait but we’re gonna be moving people through just as quick as we can,” he said.Already, more than 155,000 mail-in ballots have been returned in Hillsborough County. In 2016, 192,000 voters voted by mail.“That’s a little bit hard to compare because this is the most ballots we’ve ever sent out but I can tell you the rate of return at this point is ahead of what it’s been in previous years. Not by huge percentage numbers but we are ahead,” Latimer said.According to data shared by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, at least 110,000 mail-in ballots have been returned in Pinellas County. In 2016, around 109,000 were returned.Pasco County is seeing record numbers.“To put it in perspective where we are right now we’re just over 68,000 ballots we’ve received back and ready to be tabulated that right there is about equal with the entire number of vote by mail ballots that were tabulated in all the 2016 general election,” said Brian Corley, the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections.Corley said a third of their entire voter file requested a vote by mail ballot.They’re also getting ready for early voting, having more locations than ever before.“We don’t know what to expect as far as wait times but given the pandemic and social distancing and the expected surge of in-person voting I think we might see some signs of a thriving healthy democracy,” Corley said.He also spoke about misinformation.“There’s a new one going around today, we’ve been contacted by some constituents via email or our call center that there’s something posted on Facebook,” he said.Corley said a post is about a poll worker making ballots and reminds voters that in Florida they don’t mark ballots.You can learn more about this year’s election and polling locations here.

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