MANATEE -- Only one early voting site and fewer polls will open for Manatee County's June 18 referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase to finance health care for the poor.
The election will also introduce a new voter-on-demand balloting system to Manatee County, Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett said Wednesday.
"All people need to look at their absentee ballots and look at their notices to see if their precincts have been changed." Bennett said.
Available voting sites have decreased from 100 to 93, forcing some polls to com
bine at new locations.
Legislation on early voting laws is being debated on the Florida House floor. House Bill 7013 passed Wednesday, a companion bill to Senate Bill 600, which is designed to tighten election laws and roll back many changes Gov. Rick Scott signed off on during his first year as governor in 2011.
Absentee ballots will continue as usual but some churches that usually serve as voting sites turned down requests for the June election because summer religious education programs for children need the space. Earlier the Inter-District Authority turned down a request to be an early voting site.
Among the new polls for this election are Gene WittElementary, the Bradenton Elks Lodge and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bradenton. For the first time, Lakewood Ranch Town Hall agreed to be a polling location. "I'm pleased we were able to help the residents of Lakewood Ranch and help them facilitate a good turnout for the elections," said Eva Rey, executive director.
All early voting will be limited to the Supervisor of Elections office, 600 301 Blvd. W, Suite 108, Bradenton, which will be open eight days from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Exact dates have not been determined, other than Bennett is committed to including one Sunday other than the Sunday immediately before the election.
"I don't think people know how difficult it is to get these precincts, because most businesses don't have a couple of thousand square feet that they can just voluntarily give up. We need 100 of them. It is a very, very difficult process," Bennett said.
The only issue on the ballot is a voter referendum, so Bennett is not legally required to hold early voting.
"The reason I want to do early voting is because I need the education and we're buying new equipment we need to test run," he said. "We can train our people so when we have the Nov. 14 election, we will have gone through a major race with that equipment."
Hardware for the new system now out for bid is called ballot on demand. Bennett estimated the cost around $40,000 per location.
"We have roughly 100 districts. Every one has a separate ballot. This district may have a different fire district than that one; this one may have a different community development district. If you don't have ballot on demand, we have to stock in house, as in the last race, over 200 different ballots. We have to sort through 200 different ballots to give you the one you need," Bennett said. "With ballot on demand, you put in your ID card and it will spit out the ballot you need."
Manatee League of Women Voters President Rosalie Shaffer was pleased by the early voting schedule.
"It's very good news that Mr. Bennett is having this trial run of ballots on demand for the referendum election," Shaffer said. "With this equipment, much smaller buildings can be used for early voting. Sarasota County uses it, and that is why they were able to use their library buildings for early voting. Hopefully this means we will no longer see long lines at just one early voting site in the future. That would be a great improvement for the voters."
In the November election, Bennett said he plans to use the Braden River, South Manatee and Rocky Bluff branch libraries for early voting sites.