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Not a good start in Pinellas County on Election Day

ST. PETERSBURG – An hour after polls opened today, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office mistakenly placed hundreds – possibly thousands – of automatic calls to voters instructing them that they had until 7 p.m. tomorrow to vote.

Polls actually close at 7 p.m. today. Any ballots turned in after that time won’t be accepted.

The calls went out between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. because of a glitch with the SOE’s phone system. Calls were made Monday alerting voters who had requested mail ballots but had not returned them that they had until 7 p.m. “tomorrow” to get them turned in. 

About 12,000 calls, however, didn’t get through, said SOE spokeswoman Nancy Whitlock. They were stored in a queue and recycled this morning. The “tomorrow” in the message meant for Monday was incorrect when it was delivered today. 

“About 30 minutes the calls were going out,” Whitlock said. “We stopped it immediately when we found out about it.” 

But it wasn’t easy alerting elections officials of the erroneous messages, said one of the voters who got the call. 

Kathie Spitzer, a 55-year-old St. Petersburg resident who works from home, said she got the recorded message at 8:07 a.m. 

It was a recording of a woman’s voice. She identified herself as an employee with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, Spitzer said, and she had something to tell voters.

Election Day would be tomorrow. 

“She said that they would take ballots through 7 p.m. tomorrow,” Spitzer said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was very upsetting.”

Spitzer said she called the phone number that came up on her caller ID. It led her directly to the supervisor of elections office. When she told the woman who picked up the phone about the call, she was told it was impossible, there was no way such a call was made. She was directed to another woman, who also told it that it was impossible and no such messages were sent out.

“They were very uncooperative,” Spitzer said.

 Whitlock said she doesn’t know how many of the 12,000 calls went out in 30 minutes. She said it wasn’t anywhere close to the total number of calls stored in the queue.

Whitlock said a second message was quickly sent out informing those who received the incorrect messages that today is Election Day and the final day to accept ballots.

 “We encourage anyone with a mall ballot return it by 7 p.m. today and disregard the call this morning,” Whitlock said for those who left after the second call was made.