MANATEE -- Early voting on proposals to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for indigent health care and to allow the county to offer tax breaks to new and expanding businesses starts Saturday and continues through June 15.
But the polls at the Manatee Supervisor of Elections Office will be closed on the Sunday and Monday immediately preceding Election Day on June 18, Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said Friday.
"It's to give all my people time to get out all the equipment. We need to get equipment to almost 100 precincts," he said.
Asked if the elections schedule might interfere with the black community's traditional "Souls to the Polls" voting campaign, which involves busing Sunday churchgoers to vote, Bennett replied, "No, it will be open this Sunday, so those people who wish to vote on Sunday can vote on this Sunday as a group."
A change in state law that will go into effect Jan. 1 that allows voting on the Sunday before the election will be welcomed by members of the Manatee Chapter of the NAACP, said Susie Copeland, its president.
"I would love for the last Sunday to remain early voting, and that would give us two Sundays to do early voting," she said. "When you have a population that works two jobs, it is very difficult."
She called it "a convenience and a way of allowing voters to exercise one of their basic rights: A right to vote."
The NAACP, which has endorsed the sales tax proposal, was organizing church groups to go to the polls this Sunday , Copeland said. Anyone who needs a ride can call her at 941-447-2189. Also offering rides to the polls is Lawrence Livingston, pastor of the Eternity Temple, 716 29th St. E., Palmetto, at 941-713-4492."We'll have to try and get more activity going for this Sunday," he said.
State law requires early voting to begin the 10th day before the election and end on the third day before the election, but after Jan. 1, that will change under the new law, said Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent.
Under terms of that law, county elections supervisors may increase the number of early voting days from eight to 14, said Dent.
"The new law that takes effect Jan. 1 gives the supervisor the discretion to be open Sunday," she said.
Last year in Manatee, early voting began on Saturday, Oct. 27, and continued through Saturday, Nov. 3; the polls were closed on Sunday, Nov. 4, and Monday, Nov. 5, before the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
It was the final election overseen by veteran Manatee Elections Supervisor Bob Sweat, who retired last winter, but was hardly a model one: It was marred by long lines at the polls, and on the first day of early voting, some people waited up to 90 minutes to cast their ballot.
Bennett, who was elected to the supervisor's post in November, has already made efforts to improve efficiency with new, high-tech voting equipment called a "ballot-on-demand" system. It will be used for the first time today at a single site: The supervisor of elections office at 600 301 Blvd. W., Suite 108.
The system will eventually permit multiple early voting sites in the county for the first time.
On the special election ballot are two referendum questions for voters: The first asks if the county should levy a one-half cent sales surtax for a 10-year period commencing Jan. 1, 2014, with the proceeds to be used to fund health care, including services for the indigent.
The second asks whether the county should be authorized to grant property tax exemptions to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that are expected to create new, full-time jobs.
Early voting today lasts from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, June 9, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Monday-Friday, June 10-14, 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.; no early voting is slated for Sunday and Monday, June 16-17; on Election Day, June 18, the polls will be open from 7 a.m.- 7 p.m., according to Bennett.
Officials cautioned that absentee ballots should be returned to the supervisor of elections office, rather than to a polling place; on Monday, June 17, they can be dropped off from 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. and on Tuesday, June 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
While early voting is going on, voters can drop off absentee ballots as well, officials said.
For information, call the elections office at 941-741-3823, or consult the website www.votemanatee.com.
In other news, Healthy Manatee, a political committee urging a "yes" vote on the sales tax hike, reported new endorsements from David Teitelbaum, a resort owner and longtime Manatee County tourism leader; Jaymie Carter, who has led efforts to bolster downtown Bradenton; the Manatee County Medical Society; and the Holmes Beach City Commission; and the Democratic Party of Manatee County, according to a release.
Asked whether Tea Party Manatee, which is urging a "no" vote, had new endorsements, president Steve Vernon replied, "The only endorsements we have are from average citizens; that's where our endorsements come from."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.