If turnout doesn't get much better, the number of St. Petersburg residents who exercise their right to vote in today's municipal elections may not crack 15 percent.
You could characterize the flow of voters in local polling places as a trickle, but that would be generous. This may be due in part to the volume of people who have already cast mail ballots. So far, 13.24 percent of the city's electorate have cast a mail ballot, compared to around 2 percent who have come to the polls, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections' most recent turnout numbers.
Many of those who are weighing in at the polls, like attorney Sheila McDevitt, do so in every election, regardless of the the size or level of hype. She voted at the St. Petersburg Coliseum around midday, and was one of three voters to visit the polling place within a span of roughly 20 minutes.
McDevitt did not want to say which candidates she voted for, but did tell CL a key factor in determining her support was the Tampa Bay Rays stadium issue, which she said the Council hasn't been handling very well.
“I love baseball, and I have tickets and I go," she said. "While I would hate for them to leave here, I think it's a little bit disingenuous for the city to take the hard stance that they have, because in fact if the city really supported them, we'd have more people at those games.”
Many view the City Council DIst. 7 race, which pits Will Newton against Lisa Wheeler-Brown, as key, given the two candidates' different takes on the issue. Wheeler-Brown wants to make it easier for the Rays to explore potential stadium sites in Hillsborough County (with the assumption that there won't be any and the team will stay in St. Pete after all) and Newton wants to make sure the team pays heavily if it leaves Tropicana Field before it's supposed to in 2027.
The two candidates cleared a five-person primary, after which the race turned particularly nasty. Outside groups spent thousands on negative campaign mailers trashing both of them, but marginally interested voters may not have noticed.
“What I thought was humorous about them is that you have to assume that probably 50 percent of the people don't read what's on the mailers, so they actually looked like mailers for the people whose pictures were on there,” McDevitt said.
On the other side of the polling place, Wheeler-Brown was cheerful as she stood in the shade of a tall tree next to her father, who reclined in a captain's chair.
She recently was up 11 points in a citywide poll, and has enjoyed endorsements from the Tampa Bay Times and CL. But in a short interview she didn't want to take anything for granted.
“It's up to the voters who they want to represent them on council," she said "And either way it goes, I'm just humbled to have come this far and have this opportunity to possibly represent not only District 7, but the city.”