MANATEE -- Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett wants Manatee County to emulate Pinellas County.
Neighboring Pinellas County boasts among the highest voter turnout statistics in the state, with 68 percent voting via absentee, or by mail-in ballots, Bennett said Monday.
"That's what we're looking to do," he told a group discussing "Voting Rights and Voter Turnout" sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Turnout among those who request absentee, or mail-in ballots, is substantially higher and cheaper than other ways of encouraging voters, such as early voting, which gives residents the option of casting ballots in the days leading up to Election Day, said Bennett.
"They will fill out that ballot," he said.
Bennett is hoping that, if approved, remote "drop off" boxes placed across Manatee would help voters who distrust the mail; they might feel more comfortable using a real ballot box, he said.
"I believe you get a better-educated voter when you get an absentee ballot," Bennett told the group at the Bradenton Woman's Club. "You've got a little bit of time to educate yourself."
Those attending had a number of questions about Bennett's recommendation to close about 30 percent of Manatee's polling places in favor of more early voting sites and emphasis on mail-
One questioner wanted to know whether the closings were temporary or permanent.
"It's always temporary," replied Bennett. "It's always flexible, it should be flexible."
Asked if there were any safeguards against suppression of voters, Bennett, a former Republican lawmaker, replied, "If I'm wrong, we will change it; if there is a problem, we will fix it."
Asked after the meeting what he thought of the discussion, Manatee School Board candidate Rodney Jones said, "Everybody is nervous about everything.
"There is a lot of concern about a purge, concern about voting by mail," he added. "There is a lot of concern all over."
Peggy Simone, Manatee County state Republican committee member, acknowledged the group's apprehension about voter suppression and other hot-button topics.
"Every effort is being made to make it easier to vote," she added.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.