Manatee County commission failed to dig deeply into voter precinct cutbacks

February 13, 2014 

Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett's proposal to close precinct voting stations should have been more carefully reviewed by Manatee County commissioners on Feb. 11. Over 10 percent of county precincts were eliminated last year and now over 30 percent will shut down.

How many of the following issues and questions were clearly answered at the commission meeting?

For example, it is true that more Manatee residents now vote at early voting stations or by absentee ballot? But the number of people casting ballots at precinct stations in the last two presidential election years fell by only 4,000 (from 96,000 in 2008 to 92,000 in 2012). Does this relatively small number justify cutting voting stations by 30-40 percent when two out of three voters in these elections still went to their local precincts to cast ballots?

The size of voting stations should take into account the number of voters per precinct. But the proposed plan calls for precincts with as few as 550 voters and many with over 5,000 voters. In the larger precincts, how well will voters be efficiently served?

Seven to eight precincts with high percentages of minority residents will be closed, and voters redirected to the consolidated station at the Renaissance Center. But by moving the voting location farther from the homes of voters, many of whom do not have easy access to transportation, will this simply make it more difficult for these voters to cast ballots?

Another explanation for consolidation looks specifically at precincts with large percentages of voters who use the early voting or mail approach. But a number of precincts have almost 50 percent of voters using these two activities and remain untouched. Is there any real consistency in consolidation of precincts?

Had reporter Sara Kennedy and the Herald not headlined the Bennett consolidation on the morning of the commission meeting, how many readers would have even known about this massive election reform? A number of citizens at the meeting pleaded for the BOCC to delay a final endorsement until more information could be considered and disseminated. Manatee voters were poorly served by six of the seven commissioners who fast-tracked the plan. Michael Gallen was the lone voice against an immediate vote.

Bill McGrath


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