LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Town Hall will serve as an early voting location beginning with the primary election in 2014.
A request from Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett to use the building for early voting had been turned down in March by the Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority, citing space issues. The facility is often booked in advance for club meetings and other events.
But this time around, Bennett gave Lakewood Ranch Executive Director Eva Rey ample time to plan, and the board was eager to host early voting.
"The board really recognized how important this is to the residents of Lakewood Ranch, and they have volunteered to give us the space," Bennett said. "This is an ideal location. (Voters) driving down Lakewood Ranch Boulevard can see if there's a line outside. If there's a line, maybe they'll go shopping a little bit and come back."
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Finding an early vot
ing location is difficult, Bennett said. A 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot space is required. Parking has to be convenient for elderly and disabled voters, and proper security measures have to be taken, like changing the locks and adding security guards.
Bennett said he looked into government buildings such as schools and libraries, but gaining the space was tough.
"We would have to ask the library to move books around to give us 2,000 square feet," he said.
So when Lakewood Ranch offered to utilize Town Hall, Bennett was relieved. The building boasts spacious salons that can be easily emptied and a nearby parking lot.
For residents, having an early voting location right at home is especially convenient.
Before, East Manatee voters would have to drive upwards of 45 minutes to an hour to vote at the Supervisor of Elections office on 301 Boulevard in Bradenton.
"Having an early voting location is going to save the residents so much time, and it's going to be so much easier for them," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "I'm very thrilled to hear that he (Bennett) is going to do that, and I'm hoping he'll continue to do that."
Dave Emison, Inter-District Authority vice-chair, is equally excited about the new location.
"This brings voting closer to home, and I hope it will bring people to get out and vote," he said.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.