New early voting locations identified in Manatee County

dgraham@bradenton.comMarch 20, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- With the memory of voter lines stretching for blocks and waiting times exceeding an hour during early voting in last November's general election, Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett is moving to add additional early voting places.

Last time around, there was only one polling place for early voting, 600 301 Blvd. W., in Bradenton -- a long drive for anyone living in East Manatee.

In the upcoming special election June 18, early voting will be held at Braden River, Rocky Bluff and South Manatee Branch libraries, Bennett said Tuesday.

In the special election, Manatee County voters will decide two issues, whether to fund health care costs for the indigent through a half-cent sales tax referendum and whether to allow tax exemptions to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses.

Bennett, frustrated by the current law that limits early voting locations to government buildings such as a city hall or a public library, was in Tallahassee Tuesday urging legislators to broaden the facilities that could be used.

The dedicated space must be allocated for up to 14 days and secured, he said.

Public schools and churches do not qualify for early voting locations.

College sites were turned down as an option Tuesday morning due to a shortage

of parking spots for students and a desire by the colleges not to attract additional traffic, Bennett said.

A request from Bennett to use Lakewood Ranch Town Hall for early voting was unanimously turned down by the Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority Tuesday.

Disruption to the operations of Town Hall activities and business was cited by Vice Chairwoman Jean Stewart, who represents Community Development District 1.

According to Eva Rey, Lakewood Ranch executive director, said early voting could happen with any election, not just with state or national elections.

"His point is that people on the east side of the county want to do early voting but now they have to drive into Bradenton," Rey said.

District supervisor Nancy Johnson said Town Hall is too small a facility to host early voting.

"If we had 10 rooms for clubs, it would be different," Johnson said. "How about the new maintenance facility when it is finished?"

The space needed would be about the size of two of the Town Hall's salons, Rey said.

"The largest room in the new maintenance building is the conference room and it would not be big enough," said Ryan Heise, director of operations.

Bennett said he was disappointed that Lakewood Ranch supervisors did not volunteer Town Hall.

"The law is very specific about where we can hold early voting," Bennett said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"A lot of people out in Lakewood Ranch were critical because we didn't have early voting out there,' Bennett said. "We were looking for the opportunity to use it in the future election. We're hoping that they have a change of mind for the next major one."

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