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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 6 years ago

Out and about on Election Night (Part 1): Inside the Supervisor of Elections office

by: Joe Hendricks

For political junkies, campaign representatives and members of the media, the Supervisor of Elections office is the place to be on Election Night.

That’s because the computer monitors inside the public viewing area are the first to display the election results, appearing 10 to 20 minutes before that information is posted online at the Supervisor of Elections’ website.

Around 6:45 p.m., interested parties begin to gather inside the small conference room that serves as the public viewing area. A window along one wall allows the public to watch the ballot tabulations taking place. A microphone inside the secure area allows the public to hear any conversations pertaining to potential problems with a ballot or a voting machine.

When the polls close at 7 p.m., voting precincts from around the city begin transmitting data from the voting machines to the Supervisor’s Office via telephone modem. By this time, the early voting and absentee ballots have already been tallied and those results are the first to appear on the viewing room monitors.

The public area was quite full during the presidential election in the fall of last year, with TV crews, radio reporters and newspaper writers filing live reports as the results came in.

With Tuesday being a city election for Sarasota residents only, the media presence was much smaller, with only about 10 people gathered in the room.  The media presence included Jon Susce (publisher of the newly-formed Sarasota Phoenix newspaper),  ABC 7 reporter Max Winitz, and a young lady from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, whose assignment was to call in the final numbers to her editor when the results were in. Also in the room were County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, Sarasota County Democratic Party Chair Rita Ferrandino, Kelvin Lumpkin supporter Danny Preston and two Susan Chapman supporters.

A few minutes before 7 p.m., the early voting/absentee results appeared on the monitors. Accounting for 16.7 percent of the vote, the early numbers proved to be a reliable indicator of things to come, with Susan Chapman getting 26.4 percent of the early vote, Mayor Suzanne Atwell 23.5 percent and Richard Dorfman 20.7 percent – followed in order by Linda Holland, Kelvin Lumpkin and Pete Theisen.

(Author's note: These early voting percentages are the figures used by the Supervisor of Elections office. The  official city calculations result in increased percentage figures when factoring in that each voter is allowed two votes. It is the number of votes, not the percentage of votes, that determines who wins a race, or in this case moves on to the run-off.)

The early numbers more or less mirrored the final results posted 45 to 50 minutes later, with Chapman receiving 2,712 votes, Atwell 2,611 votes and Dorfman 2,313 votes, with these three top vote-getters moving on to the May 14 run-off election that will decide this race.

Between the time the early votes were posted and the final results were in, Rita Ferrandino expressed her pleasure that two of the three Democratic candidates (Chapman and Atwell) were advancing to the run-off. She had hoped for a Democratic sweep, with Linda Holland advancing as well, but that was not to be, with Dorfman, a Republican, claiming the third spot.

A Voting Conversation

One of the great things about being at the elections office on Election Night is the impromptu conversations that ensue as the results come in. When I asked Ferrandino if anything about this election surprised her, she said she wasn’t surprised, but she was concerned about the low voter turnout, with only 17 percent of registered city voters casting a vote.

Joe Barbetta then said, “That’s why you should get behind a November election. Not only a November ballot, but go with Oregon’s method of voting, which is vote by mail.”When asked if she supported the idea of moving city elections to coincide with the state and federal primary and general elections in August and November, Ferrandino said, “I think that more people voting is better. I don’t want to say we had a poor showing tonight, because people did come out, and that’s a good thing, but we need to find ways to make sure that we have more people exercising their vote.” She also noted that voter turnout among city voters during the Nov. 2012 general election was upwards of 70 percent.

“Right now we’re approaching 30 percent of the people voting absentee (which is done by mail),” Barbetta added. “Why not just have people vote by mail? It’s cheaper and Oregon has an 80 percent return rate.”

When asked about the counter argument that placing city elections on a large state and federal ballot results in city matters being delegated to the bottom of an already lengthy ballot, Ferrandino said, “That’s how we elect our charter review boards and our hospital boards, and they all seem to be able to make it.”

Barbetta then mentioned the fall 2012 ballot that included a number of city amendment questions placed at the bottom of the ballot, saying, “They got to the bottom … a lot of people voted.”

As for why more people don’t vote in city elections, Rita said, “Because it’s not on their radar. They’re not sitting home today thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go vote,’” adding that many city residents didn’t even know Tuesday was Election Day.

When I pointed out that you can’t drive around town without noticing the campaign signs, Rita said, “The signs have been up for months and signs don’t vote. Again, I think the long-term solution is putting these things in sync with other issues on the ballot and then you would get more people participating.”

After the all the results were in, it was time to hit the after-parties, where the candidates and their supporters gathered to celebrate or mourn the results.

(Coming soon ...“Out & About Part 2: The After-Parties”)

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