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Early voting dates can vary county to county

Florida lawmakers gave counties latitude in setting dates for early voting, and election superintendents took full advantage.

The state’s elections website says early voting is Aug. 16 to 23 for the Aug. 26 primary.

But it adds that “each county Supervisor of Elections may, at his or her own discretion, offer additional days of early voting.”

The upshot: Know before you go. Here’s the skinny:

Hillsborough County will have early voting at 15 locations from Aug. 14 to 24. Polls will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Though voters must cast a ballot at their assigned precinct on Election Day, they can vote at any of the early locations, said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Gerri Kramer.

If voters are out running errands and looking to vote early, “they can go to the one closest to their dry cleaner,” she said.

Addresses are now posted at votehillsborough.org/?id=39. That page also will show estimated wait times at each site.

Pinellas County will have early voting at three locations from Aug. 16 to 24.

Polls in Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Nancy Whitlock, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, said the dates are guided in part by past turnout. For the 2012 primary, records show 1,612 people in Pinellas cast ballots over eight days of early voting.

Locations are at www.votepinellas.com/?id=152 .

Pasco County will hold early voting at eight locations from Aug. 16 to 23. Polls will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday.

Locations can be seen at www.pascovotes.com/Early-Voting/Early-Voting-Locations.aspx. That page also will show approximate wait times.

The differences in early voting from county to county result from Florida’s tinkering with its elections laws in recent years.

In 2011, lawmakers overhauled the laws, creating changes that were later lambasted for causing long waits and confusion during the 2012 election.

Those changes, which Republicans said were aimed at preventing voter fraud, reduced early voting time and cracked down on voter-registration drives, among other things.

Two years later, a chagrined Florida House of Representatives undid those fixes on the first day of the 2013 legislative session, increasing the maximum days of early voting from eight back to 14.

The redrawn law also gave flexibility to local elections officials depending on interest in early voting in their counties.

At the time, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said, “The Legislature has some responsibility for some of the challenges we had in 2012.”

“That’s why we passed this on the first day,” Weatherford said. “We’re not going to let any grass grow under our feet.”

The legislation also OK’d more early-voting polling places at sites like fairgrounds, convention halls and civic centers.

In the Tampa Bay area, officials largely stick to libraries and government office buildings.

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