Former Sarasota City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner gave one of three public statements expressing skepticism about the plan to renumber and reconfigure local voting precincts (reprecincting).
Despite the negative dialogue, the Sarasota County Commission Tuesday, May 22, approved the ordinance that will shrink the number of precincts from 156 to 98 and save roughly $100,000 for the county.
Criticisms revolved around voter disenfranchisement, which the Department of Justice enforces as part of the Voting Rights Act. Because the new districts would cause some local precincts to disappear, Sarasota resident Pat Rounds said this would be hard on people who don’t own cars. She noted there was little public discussion about the plan prior to approval date, something that was promised on the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website.
Kirschner took the podium and gave some statistics about Sarasota’s Latino population, noting that although 70% of those groups are eligible to vote, only 20% actually do so.
“(Sarasota County) must have great concerns that for any change we make we engage the community,” he said.
The phrase “voter suppression” came up in two speeches to commissioners about reprecincting, which, if proved true through the court system, would rule new precincts unconstitutional.
However, those who support reprecincting say there are enough ways to vote to outweigh any inconvenience of a new polling place.
“You have to remember that this is 2012,” Dent said. In 2008, 60% of those who voted did so prior to Election Day, with the help of absentee ballots.
“I have a hard time accepting the fact that people are having a hard time voting,” said Commission Vice Chairman Joe Barbetta.
“People, in general, would be more supportive of change based on how the change on how that change occurs,” said Commissioner Carol Mason
“There’s no question that we need to do something in regard to reprecincting,” Commissioner Jon Thaxton said. He said more public outreach would have been ideal, but noted that redistricting by the Florida Legislature was out of the county’s hands.
Dent said regardless of the good that may have come from informing the public more thoroughly, she had to wait for commission approval before updating her website.
“My polling place has been changed, maybe five times, and it’s not the end of the world,” said Nora Patterson.
The only polling place that will be closed is Mount Cavalry Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Dent said.
Patterson asked whether public opinion gathered at the coming Town Hall meetings could even be incorporated into the ordinance.
“If it is challenged in court, it could be changed,” Dent said. “But, frankly I don’t see this being a problem with the Department of Justice.”
The office of the Supervisor of Elections will hold meetings to educate the public about the redistricting process on the following dates:
Tuesday, June 12
Wednesday, June 13
Tuesday, June 19
Wednesday, June 20
Thursday, June 21
Check the Supervisor of Elections website at sarasotavotes.com to find out where and what time the meetings will be held as the office adds calendar information.