By John Lawrence
A long line of voters— men, women, every age and color — stood in line at the court house in Clearwater, masked and waiting — for their chance to cast their ballots in the 2020 election.
It was the Sunday before Election Day and each voter had heeded the call to vote early to overcome a slowed U.S. Postal Service and to avoid crowded poll sites during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The curb across the street from the voting line was crowded with happy and energetic supporters of each presidential candidate, as well as volunteers representing Pinellas County and Clearwater office seekers. They shouted and yelled good-naturedly as they swung flags designed to solicit honks and cheers of support from cars and their passengers.
Passengers in a few cars shouted colorful language designed to show their distaste for particular candidates.
For Marty Shapiro of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters (LWV), it was a day of non-partisan support for voters of every political stripe. The LWV does not recommend particular candidates; it does organize debates among local candidates in some districts, but it does not pass out campaign literature or do other politicking.
“I have been volunteering many years, helping people find the polls, answer their questions, direct them to the appropriate place to vote and drop off their ballots,” Shapiro said from his poston the corner. “I believe in our democracy and believe everyone has a right to vote. I want to make sure every person has the opportunity to vote.”
Colorful Clearwater talked to volunteers at the polls, those nameless, wonderful people who answer voters’ questions about the identification needed, whether a voter registration card is available, and other basic questions.
Even George Cretekos, Clearwater’s mayor until he termed out last year, volunteered his time at the Court Street polling site. He was in a hurry to get inside so could not comment.
As voters at the head of the line wait for a poll volunteer to motion them into the building to drop their ballots, volunteers talked about their mission.
“We provide non-partisan voter assistance to help people if they need any information, said Kate McCreedy, the LVW volunteer on the exit side of the building. “This is my first time officially doing something for a non-partisan organization. The LVW has always been a go-to when I am looking to research candidates and just for information. I wanted to help get the vote out for whomever you want to vote for.”
That’s not to say there aren’t partisan volunteers; that is, people who help Democrats and Republicans make decisions.
Gaby Antoni volunteers with the Pinellas County Democratic Party handing out copies of the Democratic ballot that lists the national, state, and local candidates, judges, and state constitutional amendments the Democrats support.
“I encourage people to vote, and if they have any more questions about the election, I send them to the nonpartisan information person, Antoni said. “This is my firstyear volunteering, because I feel this election is about our life.”
Kristin Bechtel, the volunteer with the Pinellas County Republican Party, stood with Antoni. They were in good cheer and chatting when we caught up with them.
“I just ask them if they are here to vote, and if so, I tell them that I have some recommendations from the Republican ballot,” Bechtel said, good naturedly. “I don’t get a lot of questions from people; they have already decided by the time they arrive here at the polling place. It is a good way to help people because the amendments and judges often aren’t familiar to voters.”
Voters who got help that day applauded the volunteers.
“We think they are the best for spending their day volunteering,” said Matt Mayers, who voted with his daughters, Abby and Keeley that Sunday before Election Day.
“They guide you to the right place, it’s great of them to do that, Keeley said.
Keith, who wanted to offer only his first name, said poll volunteers guided him to where he could drop off his completed ballot at the court house.
“I can’t be available on the weekdays to vote; I am so busy with a new job, I just didn’t have time,” he said. “I just completed the ballot a couple hours ago, so I was going to drop it off at the courthouse for the first time. They were very helpful in guiding me to getting my vote in.”
Then there were two Latina young lady volunteers, Yessica and Jessica, who held Spanish-language ballots and signs that read, “Vota.”
“We are here to engage voters so they make and informed decision,” Jessica said. “We are giving out information people can use today.”
John Lawrence is a free-lance writer who has covered Florida events for decades. He enjoys covering the people and places of Clearwater. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.