A national coalition of voting-rights groups say Floridians face persistent barriers to voting that could result in more ballots not counting in November, and singling out Manatee County for inconveniencing its voters. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Advancement Project and other groups cited Manatee, Polk and Orange counties for problems they claim they found in last month’s statewide primary election. The groups said Florida should encourage more people to register to vote, that voters are inconvenienced by changes in polling places, and that voters are not always told about a new law gives them a second chance to fix their absentee ballots should they forget to sign them, officials said during a news conference Tuesday. The groups singled out Manatee County, saying its elimination of polling places requires some black voters to travel longer distances to vote.
In February, county commissioners OK’d Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett’s plan to close about 30 percent of polling places. Bennett’s staff reviewed each one, checking such factors as the size of the facility, barrier-free 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 polling locations. The elections office also opened three additional early voting sites and changed the precinct numbering system.