Yard signs stuck in lawns throughout the county may be the only indication there's an election today, when voters in eight Pinellas cities weigh in on questions ranging from whether to ease building restrictions to who will be their next mayor. Off-year local elections such as today's tend to yield small voter turnout – no more than a fifth of registered voters, unless there's something controversial up for a vote, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. By contrast, more than 73 percent of Pinellas voters showed up to the polls last November, which also was a presidential election. Interest among candidates themselves can also be low: Nine Pinellas municipalities canceled elections scheduled today due to a lack of interest among potential candidates. While voter interest might not be high in distinctly local elections, the races could significantly impact the communities in question.
Treasure Island voters, for example, will vote on proposed building code changes that would allow more density in the city's downtown redevelopment district. In South Pasadena, the heated mayoral race between Interim Mayor Larry Crowley and retired mutual funds manager Dan Calabria punctuates the debate over how to revitalize the city's main corridor, Pasadena Avenue. Crowley is pushing a plan that would encourage pedestrian traffic and mixed-use development, while Calabria wants to court big box retailers such as Wal-Mart in hopes of reviving an area blighted by derelict storefronts. Gulfport, the next city over, will elect a replacement for retiring mayor Mike Yakes, a popular leader who is stepping down after 22 years. Voters will also weigh in on a charter amendment concerning the governor's ability to fill vacant seats. The other Pinellas cities with open polls tomorrow are Kenneth City, Bellair Bluffs, Seminole, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar. Each has at least one open city council or commission seat. Suda Yantiss-Colon, 50, an Oldsmar wedding planner and one of three people running for a City Council seat, said she was shocked when she saw how few people vote in local elections and is trying to combat apathy by hitting the streets. “Hand shaking. Door to door,” she said. “It's a constant meet-and-greet.” The League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area has also tried engage voters ahead of lower-profile contests by holding candidate forums, often at the request of cities or homeowner associations – but that's really all they're doing this time around. Karen Coale, president of the local chapter, said the organization gets the most participation in areas with higher concentrations of retirees, such as Gulfport, where a recent forum drew nearly a hundred people. “It's certainly easier to do candidate forums if you have a community like that,” she said.