Sarasota NAACP president: National organization taking lead in fight against precinct consolidation

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent speaks to the audience during a campaign debate with Jon Thaxton on July 9 at Selby Library. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Trevor Harvey, the president of the Sarasota County branch of the NAACP, told the organization at its monthly general membership meeting Thursday evening, July 19, that the national NAACP is taking the lead in the fight against precinct consolidation, at the local level here in Sarasota and around the country.

During the national NAACP convention held in Houston July 7-12, Harvey met with the group’s general counsel and the senior vice president of the D.C. branch to update them about Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent’s plan to reduce the number of precincts from 156 to 98. The Sarasota NAACP had been considering requesting that the Department of Justice intervene because of concern that the consolidation will suppress the minority vote by increasing the distance voters will have to travel and increasing the possibility of long, discouraging lines.

According to Harvey, the national NAACP has been hearing many similar stories and complaints — the “same issues all across the country,” he said. Given that, the Sarasota branch “pretty much turned everything over to the national level,” hoping that the larger organization could bring stronger legal resources to bear on the problem. “We need their influence to get us to the next level,” Harvey told the News Leader after the meeting.

Given the fact that in Florida, for example, voters will be voting at their new polls in less than four weeks, Harvey hopes the problem is addressed “fairly quickly.”

In the meantime, Harvey told NAACP members, the local group needs to focus on dealing with the changes. The first step is educating minority voters about those changes, complicated by the fact that more than 1,500 mailings from Dent’s office may have supplied voters with a wrong polling location. Harvey faulted Dent for the mistake, but says it’s up to organizations such as the NAACP to supply the right info.

“It’s her problem,” he said, “but it’s our problem.”

Harvey also called for the NAACP to coordinate transportation for those voters (particularly older ones) who now live a good distance from where they’ll cast their ballots. “That’s all we can do right now,” he said.