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Longboat Key Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 3 weeks ago

A shoutout to Florida’s elections officials and staffs

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With each screw-up, elections supervisors and the Legislature reformed and refined the system to the point now that Florida’s elections system is a national model and gold standard.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Floridians should give big shoutouts to Secretary of State Laurel Lee; the 67 county supervisors of elections, including our own, Ron Turner of Sarasota and Mike Bennett of Manatee; and the thousands of poll workers and part-time staffers who made Florida proud Nov. 3.

Altogether, the 67 supervisors and their staffs processed, counted and uploaded to the state 11,141,882 votes before midnight Nov. 3 with nary a glitch — or at least none that bubbled up to a headline. In fact, many Floridians who followed the Department of State’s website in real time were able to call Florida’s results for Donald Trump at about 8 p.m. — only one hour after the polls closed.

Extraordinary.

Of course, that performance subsequently made many of us wonder: How can the election system of the third-most populous state in the country run so smoothly while others did not?

Bennett, the former state senator who won his third term as Manatee’s supervisor of elections, explained: “Because my team is unbelievably good.”

That’s crucial, yes. But Bennett said the broader reason for Florida’s glitch-less election night is this: “Because we screwed up so many elections before.”

The screw-ups started, of course, with the hanging chads in South Florida in the 2000 Bush-Gore fiasco. Then there was a string of botched elections in 2002, 2004, 2006 in Broward County. With each screw-up, elections supervisors and the Legislature reformed and refined the system to the point now that Florida’s elections system is a national model and gold standard.

“It’s not that difficult,” Bennett told us. “When the rule says ballots in by 7 p.m. on election night — except for the military, that’s it. … Seven o’clock.”

But Bennett belies what he also knows to be true: The details, precise procedures and laws are mountainous.

Stressful, as well. When we spoke to Turner this week, he was on his way back from seeing his physician. The stress and lack of sleep wore him down. For seven consecutive days up to and including election night, Turner said he and his staff were counting ballots “nonstop” beyond midnight.

On election night, after all the counting and security measures were completed, Turner said he closed shop at 2 a.m.

This year’s cycle had the added stress of the pandemic and the mushrooming of absentee, or mail-in, ballots — more than 50% of this cycle’s total in Sarasota County.

But thanks to previous reforms, Turner and other supervisors were able to begin counting absentee and early ballots starting Oct. 12. “We knew we couldn’t get them all counted on election night,” Turner said. “The bulk of them were counted before Election Day.”

To process Sarasota County’s 272,277 votes this year, Turner and his full-time staff of 29 hired 500 temporary employees and 750 poll workers. Each one takes an oath — administered by Turner — and completes state-required training. “But we do more than the minimum,” Turner said.

Now multiply that by 67. And picture this: provisional ballots. Those are ballots with glitches — bubbles not colored in all the way, signatures missing or possibly not matching, questions about registration. In Sarasota County, Turner said there were 800 provisional ballots. Each one is individually handled and researched to cure the glitch. This takes time — including in many cases sending certified letters and emails to voters within two days to be corrected.

All of this is painstaking. Nonetheless, all of the supervisors’ preelection preparation clearly paid off. Florida’s final results from its 67 supervisors results are scheduled to be certified Friday, Nov. 13, in Tallahassee.

There are many lessons in Florida’s election process. Bennett said one lesson that should be clear and implemented: The nation needs standard procedures, rules and laws for the federal offices of president, the Senate and House.

Indeed.

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