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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 1 month ago

Sarasota County prepares for 2020 elections

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Local officials, candidates and voters are anticipating the 2020 elections.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

The start of the new decade will bring a variety of elections, and with it, new representatives to the county and state.

With county redistricting, single-member districts and a federal mandate to switch the county’s voting material into both Spanish and English, Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner said he and his staff have been busy.

Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner

“We’re already in the thick of it,” Turner said. “We’re already laying out the ballot for next year, running maintenance on our equipment and buildings, and trying to educate voters.”

Around 77% of the voter population participated in the 2016 presidential elections. Turner estimates that 75-80% of voters will participate in the 2020 November elections.

City changes

The Sarasota City Commission adjusted its election schedule to match up with the presidential election schedule.

Turner said it did not require a large change — just a little length added to the March and November ballots.

“We were already doing that in the city of North Port, so we’ll just add it in the city precincts,” Turner said. “All those polling locations in the affected precincts are open on those elections, so all we have to do is just add the races to the ballot.”

County changes

In the 2018 elections, Sarasota County voters approved single member districts for Sarasota County Commission. The switch meant that voters would only vote for candidates in their district every four years rather than every candidate elected to the board.

In November 2019, County Commission approved the redrawing of district lines ahead of the 2020 census with a map that was not drawn by the county-hired consultant and was instead drawn by political activist and former Sarasota GOP chairman Bob Waechter.

The map moves Sarasota’s Newtown neighborhood and thousands of black voters from District 1, which will be decided in the 2020 elections, into District 2, which won’t be voted on until 2022. Additionally, it adds Republican voters to District 1.

The switched has caused many District 1 voters to feel they have been disenfranchised and discriminated against. As a result, three Newtown residents — Mary Mack, Michael White and former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins — filed a federal lawsuit against Sarasota County and commissioners Michael Moran, Nancy Detert and Alan Maio for “depriving thousands of African American voters living in the Newtown community of the right to vote in the 2020 election.”

Ruby Robinson holds up a sign along U.S. 41 as she protests Sarasota County's redistricting map.

“People are mad about how a few people are dictating to us how we live in Sarasota County,” Atkins said. “It’s not fair, and more and more people are recognizing it. … People of all persuasions recognize fairness and unfairness, and there’s blatant misrepresentation of justice being perpetrated here in Sarasota.”

Because the new map splits precincts, Turner said staff is working with Geographic Information System mapping to assign every county voter to a new commission district.

Although it can be confusing for voters to know which district they’re in, Turner said he would not be sending new voter information cards to residents until after the 2020 census because each round costs approximately $250,000. Instead, Turner encourages those who might be confused to visit SarasotaVotes.com or to call 861-8600.

School board

In January, the school board will begin its search for a new superintendent. Two board members, Eric Robinson and Caroline Zucker are up for reelection, though Zucker has said she will not run again.

The reelection means the new superintendent might work with a board that had no hand in selecting him or her for the position. Zucker proposed allowing candidates to be a part of the discussions, but other board members opposed the plan.

On a state level, Sen. Joe Gruters filed a bill that would set school board term limits at 12 years. 

If passed through the state Legislature, the bill would appear on the 2020 ballot.

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