Manatee County to have 30 fewer voting locations in 2014

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. - The number of places to vote in Manatee County is shrinking. 30 precincts are closing, with the majority of them in District 2.

The change is not sitting well with some, who claim it's a way to minimize the impact of certain voters.

"I’m still concerned about those who have a hard time getting to voting, because of transportation and lower income, because we are closing precincts in their neighborhood.” Manatee County commissioner Michael Gallen is the only person who voted against a measure to close 30 voting sites in order to trim the total number of locations from 99 to 69.

"Accessibility and convenience is important in District 2, which is has a large population of elderly and low income. And I don't want to do anything or endorse anything inconvenient or making voting any less accessible," says Gallen.

But Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett assures that changes will not affect voter turnout. "We can actually increase the number of people voting if we have more early voting locations, because there are more days. But to offset that, we had to do some consolidation in some of the precincts."

Bennett say most of the precincts were not being used regularly. "We had a lot of precincts in Manatee County the literality nobody was using. And when I say nobody, I’m talking about very, very low turnout numbers. Well the county spends a lot of money staffing those precincts, so we started looking at how we could hold down expenses by increasing early voting sites."

In addition, Bennett says his office will try to push absentee voting for those who may have trouble getting to their new precincts.

Not everyone is liking that idea. "Most of our people want to put their ballot in the ballot box; we are used to doing that, especially our seniors. They don't trust the absentee ballot system,” says Lou Murrax of the National Black Caucus.

In addition to the trust concerns, Murrax says fact that many of the precincts that are closing is in areas with a high concentration of Democratic voters is causing him much concern. "That’s a big red light to me. It’s probably the largest Democratic district is the county, and they are going to close half of the sites."

The vote to approve the closures did pass 6-1. Voters will find out where their new voting locations are in the coming months.