MANATEE -- Manatee County's supervisor of elections plans to send registration cards to all 208,000 voters to alert them to new precinct locations, at a cost of between $80,000 to $100,000, he said Tuesday.
"Yes, it's all 208,000 voters," said Supervisor Mike Bennett. "We'll spread it out over, probably, I guess, a week ... by end of next week, all should be out."
The elections office staff Tuesday was printing and addressing the new, red, white and blue registration cards, Bennett said.
Elections officials also will send out information about new early voting sites and instructions about how to vote by mail, he said.
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"Periodically, we must send new voters' registration cards, so what we're doing is complying with the statutes because we have a window of three to four years. So, since we had to do it anyhow, this is the time to do it," said Bennett, a former Republican legislator serving his first term as supervisor.
Bennett said he negotiated favorable bulk rates with a mailing house. He estimated about 90 percent of the registration cards would be sent at the lowest rate of 38 cents.
In February, county commissioners OK'd Bennett's plan to close about 30 percent of county polling places after his staff reviewed each one, checking such factors as the size of the facility, handicap access and parking, centralized location and whether it was on a bus route. Of 99 original polling locations, elections officials closed 34 precincts and opened five new ones for a total of 70
One of the new sites included a location originally set to be closed, but later reprieved after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People complained its loss would pose hardships for minority and poor voters.
The elections office also decided to open additional early voting sites and change the precinct numbering system.
Before the Aug. 26 primary election, voters will again be reminded about voting precinct locations through inserts enclosed with utility bills, Bennett said.
"We're working with the city of Bradenton Utility Department and the Manatee County Utility Department, including a mailing in their bills," he said.
Piggybacking on the utility bill is substantially cheaper than sending notices through regular mail, Bennett said.
Also included as part of the elections insert will be another explanation about the early voting site locations, and how to vote by mail, Bennett said.
"Again, it's about the most cost-effective way," said Bennett. "We're looking for ways to reduce the cost."
Amy Pilson, public affairs liaison for the Manatee County Utilities Department, said she had been working with Bennett's staff.
The county utility system sends monthly bills to nearly 106,000 customers, Pilson said.
"I am not sure when Mr. Bennett's office will provide the mailers to be sent out," she said. "We have not discussed dates."
At least one person who had complained about Bennett closing polling places said he would not move forward with a challenge.
"Everything I'm being told seems to indicate that (former state) Sen. Bennett is being responsive to pastors and advocacy groups in the district ..." wrote Brad Ashwell of the voting rights advocacy organization called Common Cause in an email.
"We and others will be watching how this plays out, and we're developing a plan on how we'll work with citizens to know where their polling places are," Ashwell said. "I don't think there's much we'll be able to do in terms of a formal challenge unless the results of the election give us more to work with."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.