Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando vote suppression concerns unfounded, but vigilance is needed

The charges of voter suppression are not justified.

The concerns about it definitely are.

I'm referring to Hernando County's Republican supervisor of elections, Shirley Anderson, and her plan to close six polling places.

One of these is Precinct 11, in the mostly black neighborhood of south Brooksville, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.

If you look at that, and only that, you can see why the chairman of the local Democratic Party, the head of the county branch of the NAACP and the County Commission's lone Democrat all have attacked Anderson's plan, saying it has less to do with the stated goal of saving money and more to do with discouraging unwanted voters.

But small precincts are obvious candidates for consolidation, and the south Brooksville precinct was the second-smallest in the county.

Anderson not only plans to shut down the very smallest one — the Republican-leaning Precinct 26 in Clover Leaf Farms — but will also close the polling place of a larger, very heavily Republican precinct in Timber Pines.

The money saved — about $8,000 per election and $45,000 the next time the county replaces its voting machines — will allow Anderson's office to open two new locations to satisfy the increasing demand for early voting.

One of these sites will be the very same South Brooksville Community Center that has housed Precinct 11. If you really want to shut out Democratic voters, you don't offer eight additional days of voting in a neighborhood that's significantly bluer than the state of Massachusetts.

In the face of these facts, the plan's opponents fall back on a bunch of other dubious claims, most of them based on the patronizing assumption that it's a big deal to force poor African-Americans on Election Day to vote at the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville.

Considering it's less than two miles from their current polling place, I think they'll manage.

But even if there's no reason to believe the arguments against precinct consolidation, there are plenty of reasons why people are arguing:

For example, the shortening of early voting hours before the 2012 election. And the bogus claims of rampant voter fraud. And the equally bogus lists of supposedly illegal voters, many of which happened to have names that were Hispanic-looking (read: Democratic-looking).

These were part of a suppression strategy, one that was aimed at Democrats and cooked up by Republicans.

And it's difficult to think of anybody in the county more Republican than Anderson. She's served as a lead staffer for two Republican U.S. representatives and is, in her words, "very good friends" with Andrew Ingoglia, the father of Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the county Republican Party and vice chairman of the state party.

She's a Republican "soldier," who in her job as elections supervisor is "supposed to be nonpartisan," said Steve Zeledon, chairman of Hernando's Democratic Executive Committee.

He's kind of right. The office isn't nonpartisan, but it should be. That would give the public more confidence in the fairness of supervisors. And last year several supervisors and candidates for the job told Times metro columnist Sue Carlton that their jobs would be easier without the burden of party affiliation.

But because this isn't going away anytime soon, it's up to supervisors to act as if these designations do not exist — and up to voters to judge supervisors' performance on that basis.

Anderson knows this, she said.

"I'm working hard to run my office in a nonpartisan way because I know people are looking at me."

As they should.

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