BRADENTON -- It being item #10 on the consent agenda of Tuesday's board meeting, Manatee County Commissioners must have thought the act of cutting a third of the county's voting precincts was up there with approving a county fair, allowing unlicensed weekend fishing and casual Friday dress codes. But the issue proved to be far more intimate for those who opposed Tuesday's vote to eliminate many of the existing precincts. They see the right to vote, as a civil, constitutional and a human right.
Jamie Canfield was one of the first to speak before the commission. "We have to engage the people," said an emotional Canfield. "We should be making it easier, not harder, for them to vote."
Lou Murray, V.P of the Manatee-Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus, said, "In every democratic society, voting is essential. Try to increase participation, that's what our democratic society is supposed to be."
Frank Dellert told the commission, "I hope you are in good counsel."
Dr. Rev. McAuthur Sellars added, "I'm a Pastor, a coach, a teacher, but today I am a voter."
Glen Gibellina told the board, "I feel the same way ... you're making a huge mistake. It is too close to election time, and in the spirit of voting, it is a great concern."
Lee Redfern told commissioners, "God is watching you," and Chairman Bustle warned her stating their 'oath of conduct.'
Commissioners said little to nothing about the plethora of pleas coming from residents, offering only anecdotes from their own voting experiences.
But Commissioner Gallen was the only member that gave more than lip service to those who took the day off to ask commissioners to wait and engage the public with a work session or public meeting to discuss the issue further before voting.
Gallen, however, stood alone. He too wanted more time and public involvement, but Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett warned that any delay would set the process back to a dangerous place. "My real concern is the 2016 election."
Bennett said, "We have actually expanded some of the times the polls are open, added eight days to early voting and are holding down the cost."
Bennett said part of the problem was that some of the previous locations didn't have handicap spaces.
"There are thousands of machines that need to be programed, and it would put me in a bind," Bennett said.
I asked those objecting to the policy whether their concerns were addressed. Each answered with an emphatic no.
With a vote of 6 to 1 (Gallen dissenting), the precinct changes were approved.
(click here to download PDF of Supervisor Bennett's letter to the BOCC and detailed maps of the polling location changes)
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