BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County Elections Supervisor Shirley Anderson's plan to consolidate the number of Brooksville voting precincts from four to one was met with divided opinions Tuesday by the County Commission and residents.
After lengthy debate, the board voted 3-2 to approve Anderson's consolidation plan. Commissioners Diane Rowden and Jim Adkins voted against the measure, preferring instead to table it until the electorate had more time to digest the proposal.
But Anderson stressed she has a budget to prepare and she had already done her due diligence. It was time to make a decision, she said. The move is expected to save $3,000 per election.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson agreed and made the motion to move forward. Anderson, he said is only doing what she was elected to do and that is find efficiencies.
"It's her plan," he said. "We weren't elected to be the supervisor of elections. She was."
Anderson will close Precinct 11 at the South Brooksville Community Center, Precinct 26 at Clover Leaf Farms and Precinct 10 at the Jerome Brown Community Center.
The South Brooksville Community center would become an early-voting site to accommodate the growing number of people who use that voting option.
Carole Smith, head of the volunteer group Organizing for Action in Hernando County, said in a press release that Precinct 11 has turned out mostly Democratic voters and Anderson is a Republican.
Smith said this is not about saving money.
"The facts indicate other motives," according to Smith. "The loss of an established precinct on Election Day is a reduction in the opportunity to vote."
Paul Douglas, president of the Hernando County chapter of the NAACP, said his data shows that about 25 percent of the voting public will be denied their constitutional rights and that is unacceptable.
Douglas said he talked to Anderson but failed to get satisfaction so he plans to take the matter to the federal NAACP and will contact state officials.
"We will be taking this further," Douglas said.
Anderson, elected in 2012, told County Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting that the decision to consolidate precincts was made after reviewing data that showed low voter turnout in the affected areas.
The city of Brooksville has just under 5,000 registered voters. Council members had previously approved the consolidation plan.
Also, there is a growing trend of voting by mail or early voting, which is making the retention of many precincts illogical and too costly, she said.
"It's about adapting to changes about how people vote," Anderson said.
"This is not about suppressing the vote," she added. "This is about creating a plan and creating efficiencies.
"It's not just about the money, absolutely not," Anderson added. "I was hired to look for efficiencies in this office and that is what I'm trying to do."
The smaller precincts earmarked for closing have in some cases 1,500 or fewer registered voters, she said
"I have deep concerns about this plan," County Commissioner Diane Rowden said.
Instead of closing precincts with low voter turnout, elections staff should be out there in the neighborhoods trying to encourage the vote, she said.
Early voting and mail-in votes may be fine for some, she said, but for others it is not an option.
"Don't let us forget that so many people, it is their right to vote and they think that it is an honor to wait for Election Day and get out there and vote," Rowden said.
Rowden asked to postpone the measure because she doesn't think enough people are aware of the proposed changes. If Cloverleaf Farms, for example, knew there were plans to close their precinct, they would be up in arms, she said.
Rowden made a motion to table the matter for 90 days. The motion died.
County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he understands some people want to vote on Election Day but the reality is that people aren't doing that, he said, citing one precinct with only a 9 percent voter turnout.
"I wish it was 100 percent," he said. "I think you ought to be made to vote."
Dukes said he is not thrilled with the idea of closing precincts but believes Anderson is only doing what she was charged to do when elected and that is find ways to reduce spending and be more accountable to taxpayers.
Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee, said what's happening in south Brooksville is what's occurring in other parts of the nation where Republican elections supervisors are in charge.
Zeledon said Anderson must run her office in a nonpartisan manner and the board must rethink this strictly from a revenue-saving view.
"It's important to understand that this is not an area where we want to save money," Zeledon said. "The voter's right to make his voice heard is priceless."
David Philipsen of Weeki Wachee urged the board not to cut precincts.
"I think this is pure voter suppression," he said.