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Lakewood Ranch Town Hall county's top early voting site

Supervisor of Elections concerned Lakewood Ranch Town Hall remains a voting site.

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  • | 8:20 a.m. November 7, 2018
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall poll worker John Morgando, of Waterlefe, voted early at Town Hall. "This is a great site," he said. "It's very convenient and it's a nice place. The response has been very good."
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall poll worker John Morgando, of Waterlefe, voted early at Town Hall. "This is a great site," he said. "It's very convenient and it's a nice place. The response has been very good."
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Summerfield resident Gary Berns, a Lakewood Ranch Bridge Club member, dropped his absentee ballot at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, where he had come Nov. 1 to play cards.

Berns said he didn’t mind the lines or any scheduling conflicts early voting may have created for club members who use the site.

“I think voting is important,” he said. “It’s more important than playing cards. And, yes, I’m parked in the grass.”

Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said Lakewood Ranch Town Hall has proven to be the most popular of five early voting locations in Manatee County, drawing an average of 1,000 voters per day. He doesn’t want that to change in the future.

“Lakewood Ranch is just about double any of the other locations,” Bennett said. “The only day they didn’t hit over 1,000 was

Sunday. Sunday is the slowest day traditionally in this county.”

Early voting has slightly affected the use of Town Hall by Lakewood Ranch-sanctioned clubs but Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Executive Director Anne Ross said the voting schedule was posted well in advance. Town Hall reserved space for polling as early as November 2017 and planned club use around it.

When the elections office added three days — Oct. 25-27 — to early voting, Town Hall had already scheduled club and other meetings. Because of the high turnout, Town Hall moved internal meetings out of the board room to give the elections office more space for voters Oct. 25-26.

Ross said the first day of early voting, Oct. 25, was overwhelming with nearly 2,000 people turning out, compared with the roughly 2,000 who stopped by during the entire week of early voting for the August primaries.

“It’s a very convenient place for a lot of people to stop to vote,” Ross said.

She said she had not received any complaints about Town Hall as a site for early voting. There are some issues that may be addressed in the future, such as improving the reception area. At times, Town Hall’s front desk employees have had difficulty hearing while answering phone calls or assisting regular customers because of noise from people waiting in line to vote, Ross said.

Parking, although challenging at times, has been generally available either in Town Hall’s lot or in overflow parking at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

The Supervisor of Elections’ office requires political campaigners to remain at least 150 feet from the polling site, and campaigners were asked to stay out of the parking lot roadways to keep traffic flowing.

Lakewood Ranch Community Development District supervisors likely will discuss early voting at Town Hall during their November meetings, but Ross said supervisors have been positive about it. The issue will be how to better balance the needs of staff and residents with voters’ use of the building. She also expects to have a meeting between Town Hall staff and the Supervisor of Elections to brainstorm logistical improvements.

Bennett is concerned because he doesn’t want to lose Town Hall as a vote center.

The Lakewood Ranch Thursday Bridge Club was one club that was displaced during early voting. Its weekly meetings from 1-4 p.m. could not be accommodated three times during the month of November. Town Hall made arrangements for the group to play at an earlier time for the Nov. 1 meeting, which was the only day affected by early voting, club organizer Joann Woodworth said.

“Everybody was happy we (got to play),” Woodworth said.

GreyHawk Landing resident Phil Harnish and his wife, Donna, also took advantage of early voting at Town Hall. They were surprised by the long lines, but said voting went smoothly.

“It was the most convenient location,” Harnish said. “We’re by this place all the time.”

Greenbrook’s Sharon Stone said it was crowded when she went to vote, but she wasn’t upset about it, either.

Bennett said finding polling sites is difficult because they must be handicap accessible, available for 10 days at a time and allow for the Supervisor of Elections to control security.

“It’s so important the people who live in Lakewood Ranch, who put up with the (parking problems) and give up their meeting space, know how much we appreciate it,” Bennett said.

Bennett said before the next general election, he expects to add another precinct out east because of the area’s growth.


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