Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Criticism Vexes Elections Chief

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Criticism Vexes Elections Chief

Article excerpt

FEWER PRECINCTS: Nobody will be disenfranchised, an emotional Dent says

The idea that anyone would think she would suppress a vote brings Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent to tears.

Dent last week presented her plan to cut 40 percent of the county's voting precincts, which drew swift condemnation from some civic and civil rights leaders. They have already asked the U.S. Department of Justice how to go about filing a formal complaint, though they have not decided yet if they will do so.

"My feelings were hurt for them to think that I would disenfranchise anybody," Dent said in her office last week, her voice breaking. "I did cry, because I care."

Critics of her plan say they did not mean to hurt her feelings, but that they still have serious concerns with the process by which she came up with the new voting precincts. They argue her office should have sought input from the community first and more thoroughly considered the impact in places like predominantly black Newtown, which will have several precincts consolidated into one.

"We were like, Kathy, you're taking this personally. No one said that you are intentionally doing anything," said Trevor D. Harvey, president of the Sarasota branch of the NAACP. "But since this process is not transparent, you have to raise certain questions. Because you arbitrarily made these decisions, the community is responding the way they're responding. That's our whole argument."

The information presented about where the new precincts and polling places would be was confusing, Harvey and others say. Before the county commission approved the changes on Tuesday, Commissioner Jon Thaxton said he had a hard time figuring out from her documents in which new precinct he was.

Critics were even more confused when Dent went on local TV news shows and wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald-Tribune saying that there were still seven "Newtown area" precincts and five polling places left. They point out that Dent was counting precincts like one by the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport as "Newtown area." Further, while the old polling places Newtown voters used will remain open, only voters in other neighborhoods will be voting there come election season.

In response, Dent said she was unsure where the borders of Newtown are. And she is still puzzled that her proposal, which she estimates would save taxpayers $100,000 per election, is drawing so much controversy.

Other counties in Florida are also cutting precincts as part of a mandated 10-year redistricting. Early voting and vote-by-mail made up 60 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, Dent says, making so many polling places unnecessary. …

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