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NAACP demands polling sites to be accessible to hurricane victims in Panama City

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Florida officials have rejected a formal request from voting rights advocates to make polling locations more accessible to African-American residents of Panama City, Florida, who were hard hit by Hurricane Michael.

Late last week, a coalition of voting rights advocates, led by the NAACP and its Florida State Conference and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, Bay County Supervisor of Elections, Mark Andersen, and other Florida officials urging that the Glenwood Community Center early voting site in Panama City remain open for voting on Election Day so that African-American residents of Panama City would not have to travel outside the city to vote.

The group also requested that trolley service hours be expanded to open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 8:30 p.m. to allow voters to ride the trolley to and from polling locations throughout Election Day.

Board of Elections Supervisor Mark Andersen first responded that he had received no complaints from Panama City residents about the accessibility of voting locations.

When reminded that the requesting organizations include and represent members of the Panama City community, Mr. Andersen insisted that Panama City voters should be grateful that the Glenwood site was opened for early voting.

He did not explain why the Glenwood site could be made available for early voting but not for Election Day voting. Nor did he explain why two other Panama City locations suggested by the requesting organizations, the City Hall and Rosenwald High School sites could not be made available for Election Day voting.

The civil rights organizations believe it especially cruel to misuse the occasion of a devastating hurricane as an opportunity to disenfranchise African American voters by compelling them to leave town if they want to vote.

“We are concerned that with the devastation in the Panama City area, many African-American voters simply will not have an opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day,” said Adora Nweze, President of the NAACP Florida State Conference.

Following the hurricane, Florida officials announced the opening of six “Mega Voting Sites” in the county, but none of those locations is easily accessible to Panama City's African-American residents.

Following the announcement of the original six voting sites, state officials announced that four additional sites, including three sites in predominantly white areas and the Glenwood Community Center, would be available for early voting but not for Election Day voting.

Moreover, although the polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, trolley service in Panama City will run only from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Therefore, voters who wish to cast ballots early in the morning or late in the evening on Election Day would be unable to ride the trolley to and from one of the six “Mega Voting Sites.”

In addition to the NAACP, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the voting rights coalition submitting the request to Florida officials included Common Cause Florida, the ACLU of Florida, and the Advancement Project.

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