Manatee congressional candidate Henry Lawrence seeks voting data

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 15, 2014 

Left, Scott Farrington; center, Henry Lawrence; right, computer observer Skip Parrish, at the Manatee Supervisor of Elections office Friday.

MANATEE -- Congressional candidate Henry Lawrence on Friday sought voting data from the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office in order to evaluate what effect closure of 30 polling places would have on minority voters.

Lawrence, his campaign manager and a computer observer met with Assistant Elections Supervisor Scott Farrington in Bradenton.

They asked for digital geocodes that they said would help them to better gauge whether the changes in polling places would pose a hardship for minority voters.

Former NFL great Lawrence, a Democrat who is running against incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan, said he was concerned that minority voters would be unable to get to polling places.

"I'm definitely not familiar with this," said Farrington at one point, but he suggested they contact the elections office's vendor to see if he could supply a printed report that would list what the group sought.

Lawrence had previously sent a letter requesting specifics dated March 10.

His campaign manager, Robert Slidell, asked whether the elections office had considered how long it would take voters to get to polling places via public transportation when choosing which ones to close.

Farrington replied that polling place changes were made on the basis of many factors, such as the size of the facility, handicap access and parking, centralized location and whether it was on a bus route.

"Chances are in a lower socioeconomic area, the voter might be walking or taking a bus," said Slidell.

Farrington replied, "I don't want to get into a precinct debate -- you'll have to talk to (Elections Supervisor Mike) Bennett.

Afterward, Bennett told the Herald, "We'll give them anything they want," but indicated there was some confusion about what that might be.

"To be honest, I'm not sure they know what they're looking for," Bennett said.

Last month, Bennett recommended cutting the number of polling locations by almost 30 percent, drawing fire from those who said minority and poorer voters would bear the greatest share of the inconvenience.

The county commission OK'd his request.

From the 99 original polling locations, the elections office closed 34 and opened five new ones, for a total of 70 polling locations, including one location that was originally going to be closed, but was later added back in, Farrington said Friday.

The elections office also opened three additional early voting sites, he said.

Buchanan declined comment through a spokeswoman.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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