TAMPA (WFLA) – When voters line up and look down at the ground outside early voting sites in Hillsborough County, they’ll notice a message from the Supervisor of Elections.

“Next time skip the line. Request vote by mail.”

Elections officials told News Channel 8 they hope the greater interest in voting by mail during the 2020 election and the addition of new early voting sites will help keep lines from growing too long.

Voters have waited in long lines for the start of in-person voting in states like Texas, Georgia and Nevada.

“I think we’re going to have a really good turnout on the first day,” Hillsborough’s Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said. “We usually do.”

Especially on the first day of early voting, which lasts from Oct. 19 through Nov. 1 in Hillsborough County, Latimer is advising voters to avoid peak times when the polls open at 7 a.m., around lunchtime, and right before they close at 7 p.m.

Before heading to the 26 early voting sites, Hillsborough voters can check wait times on the supervisor’s website. 

Latimer told News Channel 8 every voter should take time to review the entire ballot.

“Be prepared when you come,” he said. “It’s two-pages, it’s a long ballot so no, I don’t want to see people walking in and have to sit there for 30 minutes reading the ballot.”

As the country picks the next president during a pandemic, Floridians are voting by mail in historic numbers. 

“You know it’s much simpler,” Michael Newett from Seffner said. “It keeps you from having to be exposed to other people, coronavirus.”

Newett and his wife are among the more than 170,000 registered voters in Hillsborough County who have already cast their mail ballots.

“It’s so important to vote, it’s the most important thing you can do,” Newett said.

To combat long lines in Pasco County, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley told News Channel 8 he’s actively promoted voting by mail as a safe and secure alternative to in-person voting.

Corley said a third of Pasco’s registered voters opted for mail ballots and half have already returned them. 

Pasco County has 16 early voting sites and new this year, Corley said he was able to secure three gymnasiums as larger locations.

Early voting capacity has also increased in Hillsborough County with the addition of 10 sites that were not available four years ago during the 2016 presidential election.

Two of them are the result of teaming up with the Bucs and the Bolts.

“Amalie (Arena), Raymond James (Stadium), these places, they’re so community-driven I think it’s just perfect,” Newett said.

Registered voters have the flexibility to vote at any of the early sites in their counties, compared to being assigned to a specific precinct on Election Day. Voters must bring proper identification with a photo and signature.

News Channel 8 has a complete guide for early voting in Tampa Bay broken down by county with locations and voting hours.

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