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Culling of polling sites leaves Dunbar community without one

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Eileen Kelley
/
WGCU
Hurricane Ian forced Lee County to cull its 97 voting sites down to just 13. None are in Dunbar, a predominantly Black community. With the closest voting sites about 50 minutes away by foot, the NAACP was offering rides on Tuesday for those looking to cast a vote.

For years residents of the Dunbar community went to the Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Center to cast their votes for local, state and federal elections.

But Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters washed through the center, essentially knocking it and many other polling places off the grid until the county rebuilds after the catastrophic storm.

Lee County used to have 97 voting sites. Today, the final day to cast a vote in the midterm elections, and nearly six weeks after the hurricane, there are just 13 locations. All of them are in predominately white communities.

On October 31, several voting rights groups asked Lee County’s supervisor of elections for two early voting sites in Dunbar, a predominately Black community of Fort Myers.

On Sunday, the Dunbar community got a drop-box for ballots at its local public library. Problem is, this was only useful for voters who had previously ordered mail-in ballots.

People who had hoped to casts ballots Monday, the last day of early voting in the county, were turned away from the Dunbar Jupiter-Hammon Public Library.

The same thing happened at the Dunbar community center.

Resident Lucita Antuine was told to go to the public library in downtown Fort Myers or out east to another early voting site.

Both polling places are about a 50-minute walk. Antuine arrived on foot.

This is exactly what attorney Michael Pernick of the Legal Defense Fund was afraid would happen when he intervened last month asking for voting sites in Dunbar.

“We were concerned there wouldn’t be an early voting location or an election day location in the Dunbar Community. It’s important for folks to get out there and vote,” he said.

The library in Dunbar as well as the community center, had signs on its doors informing would-be voters that rides to either the Fort Myers Regional Library or to Schandler Hall Community Park on Palm Beach Boulevard would be available on Election Day if they called a phone number set up by the NAACP.

Pernick hopes the community takes advantage of the service if needed. “There’s only one day left so get out there and vote.”

For a ride from the Dunbar community to a polling place call, 239-464-1394.

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