Although the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office sent out notices to candidates and parties detailing a “blanket ban” of all political signs on county-owned polling locations, even outside the 100-foot no-politicking zone, signage appeared to be just as strong as it was off county property as it was on.
“We are just here to express our opinions, you know, the good old freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” said Sheryl Wilson, chair of the Manatee County Democrats, “and we do believe that by Florida Statute, we can be on the property.”
Wilson added she believes everyone should be allowed to express their political beliefs.
Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett said Monday evening that a total of 4,376 Manatee County residents voted early.
“We had a very good turnout,” he said.
Voters on both sides of the aisle could agree on one thing during the first day of early voting: they were ready for the election to be over.
People looking to vote early for the Nov. 8 election came in droves to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office even before the doors opened at 8 a.m.
“I like voting early to avoid long lines,” said Shelley, who asked not to use her last name and who voted for Hillary Clinton.
When asked about what she thought about the election, she said it was ridiculous.
“It’s horrifying, the negative comments,” she said.
Donald Call, who voted for Donald Trump, said he was supposed to vote by mail, but needed a new one and just voted early instead.
“It’s almost the lesser of two evils,” he said about the election.
In an Oct. 5 memo, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the politicking ban was an effort to curb “excessive signage,” but the county’s information outreach manager Nick Azzara said there was more to the decision.
In more recent elections, Azzara said electioneering activities were becoming more of a distraction. Staff were “treated poorly by aggressive political enthusiasts,” and Azzara said it was a matter of protecting voters.
Azzara added that people often call the Citizens Action Center in frustration about the amount of signs and electioneering around polling places.
“When our properties were getting covered with political signs, those areas can’t be mowed,” Azzara said. “After election day, not (everyone) was good about removing the signs.”
School board candidate Dave “Watchdog” Miner set up signs at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, a polling location that isn’t considered county property. He’s concerned the rule won’t help voters consider local issues and elections over the presidential candidates.
“I’m afraid there’s a lot of unintended consequences, even though it’s well intended,” he said.
This was an issue that came up as far back as Feb. 12, according to a memo from county attorney Mitchell Palmer. When asked about the extent the county has to prohibit political signs on county property, the legal response was that the county has the “authority to limit the volume of, or totally prohibit, political signs from being placed on County-owned property being used as a polling place so long as it does so in a content-neutral way.”
Early voting locations in Manatee County
Supervisor of Elections Office, 600 301 Blvd. W., No. 118, Bradenton.
Palmetto library, 923 Sixth St. W., Palmetto.
Rocky Bluff library, 6750 U.S. 301, Ellenton.
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch.
West Manatee Fire & Rescue Administration, 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton
Voting sites are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Oct. 29; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 30-Nov. 5.