Pastors of predominantly black churches are asking for an early voting location in South St. Pete; but the supervisor of elections in Pinellas County is rejecting that request. In a press conference Friday morning at the Lake Vista Recreation Center in South St. Petersburg, Bethel Community Baptist Church Pastor Manuel Sykes said the rec center on 62nd Avenue South would be a perfect early voting location within the black community.
But Jason Latimer, communications director for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, says there are no plans to add any more early voting locations. He points to a 41 percent vote-by-mail rate and says there are plenty of chances for easy ballot access to all Pinellas voters. There’s an in-person early voting location in Gulfport, about six miles away and a vote-by-mail ballot drop-off site two blocks away. But the pastors, including Rev. Louis Murphy of Mt. Zion Progressive Baptist Church, say many residents without transportation options need something closer.
Murphy calls it “a clear case of voter suppression” and suggested that it could be a political move by Republican Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark to suppress the Democratic vote in an African-American neighborhood. It’s a claim the Supervisor’s office rejects. Democratic St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is also calling for the additional early voting site on the city’s south side.