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Blaming County, Elections Supervisor Closes 3 Outlying Precincts for Special Election

| August 15, 2011

Should Rima Ridge voters have to travel 21 miles to cast a ballot in Flagler County? Click on the image for larger view.

On Aug. 3, Kimberle Weeks, the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections, sent a letter to registered voters in three outlying precincts in the southern and western parts of the county to let them know that their usual precinct would be closed on the special District 1 state Senate seat elections scheduled for Sept. 20 and Oct. 18. (See the letter below.)

That election currently features six Democrats in the primary (the seat was held by Democrat Tony Hill, who resigned to take a post in Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration). It affects only a small portion of Flagler County–4,093 voters in five precincts. Most of the voters are concentrated in the Bunnell City Hall and St. John’s Park Fire Station precincts. And it is into those precincts that Weeks is consolidating the other three–Rima Ridge Fire Station, Espanola Community Center and Haw Creek Community Center.

But for voters in those three precincts, the closures mean they’ll have to travel some long distances to make it to their polling stations. The voters affected and the distances they’ll have to travel, compared to their regular polling station, are as follows:

  • The 295 registered voters of Rima Ridge precinct will have to travel 20.8 miles to vote at St. Mary’s Catholic Church (at 89 St. Mary Place in Bunnell), which is not even located in the senate race’s territory.
  • The 313 voters of the Haw Creek Community Center precinct will have to travel 7.2 miles to the St. Johns Park Fire Station precinct.
  • The 234 voters of the Espanola Community Center precinct, who would mostly be able to walk to cast a ballot there, will have to travel 5 miles to Bunnell City Hall.

“We are constantly pressured by the Board of County Commissioners to reduce precincts,” Weeks wrote constituents; “we are complying with demands made by the Board of County Commissioners by making a few changes at this time.”

Weeks is referring to one discussion between her and the commission, and more particularly, between her and Commission Chairman Alan Peterson, on June 13, when Weeks was presenting her (then-incomplete) budget. “What are the possibilities of reducing the number of polling places?” Peterson asked her regarding county-wide elections in particular. “I know you just eliminated precinct 9, which happens to be mine, and combined it with precinct 22.” Peterson was also referring to Palm Coast’s coming municipal election, which will have just six polling places. Weeks said federal elections require that all voters cast ballots at their own precincts, and said there would be some possible changes after redistricting.

On Monday, Peterson specified: “Because of early voting and absentee voting, we have asked her to consider the number of precincts, but we have not said what precincts should be closed or eliminated.” Any decision to close precincts would be Weeks’s, Peterson said, not the commission’s. And in the case of this special election, Peterson said expenses are accounted for by the state.

“There’s no connection between that and the fact that we have a special election which is going to be reimbursed by the state,” Peterson said. “In other words these are existing precincts, so closing them would be her choice, and the decision is somewhat questionable since they’re existing precincts and the state is going to reimburse all proper expenses.”

The voters affected are relatively few: they represent one-fifth of the 4,093 registered voters in the special election. And such elections notoriously generate very low turnouts. If a generous turn-out of 20 percent is estimated, that means fewer than 175 voters will actually cast a ballot from those three precincts. Nevertheless, the change is rankling those voters.

The affected precincts are in County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin’s district. “I have had direct contact from constituents a little upset that instead of going to Haw Creek,” McLaughlin said, “that they’re going to have to go all the way to St Johns Park to vote now.”

“Not happy,” Thea Hein-Mathen, a Bunnell business owner who lives in the Lake Disston area, said. “Not happy that I now have to go out of my way to go vote. With the price of fuel as it is now, it’s very inconvenient, and I’ll probably take advantage of the early voting or vote at the Supervisor of Elections’ office.”

Weeks is appearing before the county commission Monday evening, after 5 p.m., to request what would amount to a $22,000 advance to pay for the special election. The county administration is questioning the request, calling the manner in which it was submitted “unorthodox,” that the county may have trouble getting reimbursed from the state, and that “the amount requested may slightly overstate the actual costs of conducting the special elections.”

Weeks, a supervisor employee said Monday afternoon, was working on her budget and could not take calls. Appearing before the commission this evening, she defended closing the precincts for the coming election. “We’ve had maybe eight complaints total,” Weeks said. Those who complained were appeased, the supervisor said, when they were made awar of the absentee ballot options and early voting.

The commission also approved the supervisor’s funding request with certain caveats: the county is requiring an accounting of the money.

Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks Letter to Constituents

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13 Responses for “Blaming County, Elections Supervisor Closes 3 Outlying Precincts for Special Election”

  1. The truth is..... says:

    As was quoted in the Daytona Beach News Journal on June 15, 2011—

    Commissioner pressed Weeks to consolidate polling sites, especially since many voter not cast their ballots before Election Day through early voting,

    “I think reducing the number of precincts is a very easy way to save some money, “Chairman Alan Peterson said, adding that it would only inconvenience voters a couple of times during the year.

    “If the public should complain to you, say it’s our fault, “he said.

  2. kmedley says:

    I remember the exchange between Weeks and Peterson during the June 13th Budget Workshop. Commissioner Peterson did inquire as to the possibilities of reducing the number of precincts in an effort to reduce costs. Weeks stated it was premature to consider any reduction in the number of precincts at this time because redistricting was not yet finalized. She correctly pointed out that reducing the number of precincts would require the added expense of printing Voter Registration cards and noticing affected precincts. So rather than focus her efforts on reducing precincts in Palm Coast or other areas where precincts are many in number and closer together, she selects the Special Election, which has historically low turnout, to reduce precincts in the western part of the county where precincts are further apart. Can anyone say WOW? She’s even putting one precinct in with another that is not in Senate District 1. One can hope the voters will take advantage of absentee ballots or early voting. She didn’t even consider having a meeting with the voters and their elected commissioner and he has a meeting scheduled for Aug. 18th. An example of precinct reduction that would have made sense: consider naming Matanzas High School as a precinct and move precincts 8 (Palm Coast Yacht Club); 21 (First AME Church) and 34 (Portuguese American Club) to Matanzas. This new high school would have the technical advancements needed for the voting machines. A total of 5127 voters could be serviced by this one precinct and given the increase of absentee voting and early voting, it is almost certain all 5127 would not show up in mass on election day. Another example would be to move precincts 14 (Parkview Baptist) and 19 (St Thomas Episcopal) to number 29 (Indian Trails Middle School). This would service 5995 voters. Both numbers are larger than the most recent precinct reduction by the SOE which caused Precinct 22 to have Precinct 9 folded in and increase the number of voters to 4183. Quite honestly, IMO, it was not necessary to order the reduction of precincts with this election and in this area. The special election primary, provided all the candidates remain Democrats, will be a closed primary election and will only affect 1775 registered Democrats for these 5 precincts. The special general will affect 4093 registered voters in this area. Given the 2009 voter turnout of 19.19% for the primary and 2.54% for the general for Senate 8 which involved 30 precincts, this was a knee jerk reaction, IMO, by the SOE designed to have the public point fingers at the Board of County Commissioners.

  3. The truth is..... says:

    As was quoted in the Daytona Beach News Journal on June 15, 2011—

    Commissioner pressed Weeks to consolidate polling sites, especially since many voter now cast their ballots before Election Day through early voting,

    “I think reducing the number of precincts is a very easy way to save some money, “Chairman Alan Peterson said, adding that it would only inconvenience voters a couple of times during the year.

    “If the public should complain to you, say it’s our fault, “he said.

  4. T says:

    Weeks is once again showing how grossly unprofessional and uncooperative she is. I can not wait to vote her out of office. Does anyone know when she is up for relection?

  5. kmedley says:

    Weeks will be on the 2012 ballot.

  6. kmedley says:

    The truth is ….

    I agree with your representation of the quote cited in News Journal; however, Weeks herself argued and disagreed with Peterson because she said redistricting was not yet done and additional costs would be incurred if reductions were implemented in a premature manner. The Special Election affects a total of 4093 registered voters and the State will incur the costs. In my opinion, Weeks’ decision to test this reduction plan with the polling locations of the western part of the county is not particularly wise and will not provide any credible data for review for further polling location reductions because the turnout for a Special Election is usually low. It won’t offer a true picture. Asking a voter to travel 20 miles to vote is not a good move. There is more opportunity for polling location consolidation and reduction and eventual savings for those located in Palm Coast and maybe for a few in Flagler. Also, where is the sense in moving Rima Ridge to St Mary’s Catholic Church when that polling location is not in Senate District 1? I think a few statutes need to be considered. Just my opinion.

  7. kmedley says:

    The Board just approved $12,000 for her. All of what she requested for the Special Primary and $945.00 towards the Special General, since it falls in a separate fiscal year. Craig Coffey is tasked with getting a breakdown from Weeks for each fiscal year. Vaya con Dios Mr. Coffey! The polling locations have not been reduced or eliminated. She has not changed any precinct boundaries. She is asking folks to vote in other polling locations closer to her office because of the Palm Coast City elections. I’m still saying WOW! I wish the county all the luck in the world in having any funds returned.

  8. been there says:

    When I moved into my house in Pine Lakes in 1980, we voted in Espanola. It was a trip with a 1 year old, but we thought it was important. Try early voting or absentee ballot…it comes to your door!

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Please stop witch hunting this Supervisor of Elections! Let the woman do her work. Commissioner Peterson, I know him well, performing as a past TDC (Tourism Development Council) member, rather undermining with volunteer women from non profit artistic local organizations applying for grants. Not an official that I really care much for at all, unbecoming and with a superiority attitude specially towards women voters. He is a Republican and Supervisor of Elections Weeks, a Democrat. The lady is performing well for being her first term and worst yet having to work under the huge shadow of the past “super popular Supervisor of Elections of several years Peggy Border”. Weeks was elected by the people …let her do her job. I read she refunded $60,000 plus from her requested last years budget. Sure you do not get that from the other elected officials specially the Clerk of Court! Lets be fair?

  10. kmedley says:

    palmcoaster – Asking questions of and seeking answers from elected officials is not a witch hunt. It’s a civic responsibility, especially when the officer, in her own words, promised as a candidate:

    •I will seek to achieve the highest voter turnout rate in the state for every election. I will encourage every eligible citizen to register to vote, and to exercise their right to vote. One vote can make a difference!

    •I will make voting as convenient, accurate and pleasurable as possible while following the elections laws. Additional equipment, polling precincts and early voting locations will be added as growth requires.

    •I will be fiscally responsible.

    •I realize you, the voters, and tax payers, are my employer, as you not only elect me, but you pay me with your tax dollars. I will be accountable to you. My obligation is first and foremost to you!

    According to SOE Weeks, the BOCC has constantly pressured her office to reduce precincts and so, she has complied with their demands by making the aforementioned changes for the Senate District 1 Special Election. She even quotes the June 15, 2011 News Journal as “proof” of these demands. Conveniently, she either forgets or revises history and neglects to point out that she fought these pressures and demands from Chairman Peterson and stated it would be premature to reduce or eliminate any precincts since redistricting had not yet been finalized. She correctly advised the BOCC that until final precinct changes were known and final polling locations were designated, any changes this year would require the expense of sending polling location change notices and new voter information cards to affected voters.

    So what changed? Why comply now with “demands” from the BOCC? Last night, Weeks stated she had not closed any precincts and had not re-drawn any boundary lines. Why, because that requires the Board’s approval. She cites reasons such as conducting 2 separate elections within days of each other and she wanted the polling locations for the Special Election primary closer to her office to make it easier for her staff.

    Let’s look at the elections and the changes.
    Early Voting – Palm Coast Election at the PC Library from 8/29 to 9/10.
    Primary – Palm Coast Election – 9/13 – 6 polling places
    Early Voting – Primary – Special Election at SOE Office from 9/10 to 9/17
    Primary – Special Election – 9/20 – 5 precincts – 3 polling locations

    Early voting will overlap one day with Palm Coast and the Special Election, but two locations are named, each handling one election.

    The Palm Coast City Elections will use 6 polling places, on Election Day, with Matanzas High School the farthest away from the SOE’s office at 14.2 miles.

    The Primary Special Election, if all candidates on the ballot are Democrats, will be open to 1775 registered Democrats from 5 precincts. The precinct farthest from the SOE’s office is Rima Ridge, 26.1 miles. Haw Creek and Espanola are 11.8 and 5.4 miles, respectively, from the SOE’s office.

    Weeks has already generated and mailed polling location change notices to all 842 registered voters from these 3 precincts and will have to provide notice in the newspapers for the changes. If the election is decided on Primary day, a Special General election will not be needed. Question, how much have these changes cost and what has been saved? Will she appoint only 1 election board for the two precincts collocated at St John’s and City of Bunnell? If no, then there has not been any savings realized as far as election board costs. How much did the notices and voter information cards cost? What would have been the amount spent for gasoline to deliver equipment and other expenses? How do these figures compare? Why does any of this matter for her office’s budget needs when the State will incur the expenses?

    These changes will not provide any data that could be used in the assessment for further precinct reduction, and, as Weeks stated, she has not reduced or eliminated any precincts. She is simply moving Rima Ridge, Haw Creek and Espanola closer to her office for the convenience of her staff. How is any of this exercising fiscal responsibility and providing convenience to the voter?

    Witch hunts took place in this country long ago when good people were falsely accused without any proof and without any critical thinking skills. Researching facts, listening to arguments and ‘questioning with boldness’ should be a welcomed and encouraged civic process.

  11. I say says:

    KMedley it is apparent you have an ax to grind. I welcome the changes because the three changed polling locations should have never been opened to begin with. It is absurd to think there should be a separate precinct for roughly 300 voters. Voters have options-one of them is to have their ballot delivered to their door. How much more convenient can it get than that? This change of polling location is not for just the special election;it is until the voters receive another card from the supervisor. The commissioners should stop trying to micromanage the elections office; their responsibility is to fund the elections office. The board is clueless and should cleanup their own department. They have no right to tell the supervisor to reduce precincts or question how the supervisor runs the office she was elected to. I agree, Kimberle Weeks is doing a great job.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with Kmedley and her ax to grind.

  13. kmedley says:

    I says … I agree with the majority of your statement in that a polling location should not have been opened for roughly 300 voters and that voters have the option for requesting an absentee ballot. As far as the permanent closing of these locations, I can only go by what Weeks said at the Aug 15th meeting and that she had not closed the precincts. I did note what she said in her letter with regards to redistricting. Her website clearly shows these locations have not been closed as others have in the past. The BOCC has every right to question her budget, it’s the taxpayers money. Weeks didn’t have a problem encouraging them to question the Clerk and demand an investigation, which by the way was a good thing because that led to accounting reforms. As far as reducing more precincts, that is a logical consideration for saving taxpayer dollars and it’s a shame one who promised to be fiscally responsible hasn’t come up with her own suggestions, other than a knee jerk reaction aimed at one Commissioner’s district. In my opinion, this latest move by Weeks is not a stroke of genius or a sudden dose frugality. This is aimed at Mr. McLaughlin and is designed to have voters in his area blame him and she set the stage for this at the Aug 15th meeting. I respect your opinion with regards to the “great job” you see. I only ask that you respect my opinion which is that of a train wreck.

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