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Major shift in Manatee County election personnel causes concern

With a presidential election looming, the Supervisor of Elections office ushers in a new administration.

Fellow commissioners attend James Satcher's swearing in as the new Supervisor of Elections. From left to right: Amanda Ballard, Jason Bearden, Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr., James Satcher, Mike Rahn and Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
Fellow commissioners attend James Satcher's swearing in as the new Supervisor of Elections. From left to right: Amanda Ballard, Jason Bearden, Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr., James Satcher, Mike Rahn and Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Manatee County Supervisor of Elections James Satcher made his first big decision in his new role by hiring David Ballard as his No. 2 in the office. 

Ballard is an attorney and the husband of District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard. 

David Ballard is coming off a bad year. He was arrested for driving under the influence twice in 2023. He lost his driver’s license for 6 months and was placed on probation for a year, which is due to expire Aug. 24.

“Obviously, I preach of God and second chances,” said Satcher, who is a minister. “I like to apply that to my life whenever I can. (Ballard) has the capability and mindset that we need to get the job done.”

The former No. 2 in the Supervisor of Elections office, Scott Farrington, resigned April 12, the day Satcher was appointed to the office by Gov. Ron DeSantis following Mike Bennett's resignation.

A new administration

With only four months until the primaries on Aug. 20, Satcher and Ballard will have to learn on the job quickly. Neither has experience in an election office. 

Former Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett had no prior experience, outside of being a candidate, when taking the office in 2012.  

Bennett ran four successful campaigns — one for the Florida House of Representatives and three for the Florida Senate before being elected as supervisor of elections, where he served almost 12 years. By trade, Bennett was an electrical contractor and real estate investor. He also served four tours in Vietnam and holds a Master of Business Administration from Drake University. 

Satcher is a minister by trade. He was a pastor at Dream Builders Church in Kennesaw, Georgia for four years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Berry College and a diploma in Pastoral Studies from Rhema Bible College. 

Since 2009, Satcher has been the CEO of Satcher Evangelistic Association. The nonprofit offers ministry outreach services. The only recent information available on the nonprofit are tax records on from 2018 to 2020. 

The records list Satcher as the only paid officer. In 2018, he was paid $19,315. From 2019 to 2020, Satcher received a $19,348 pay raise. His last reported salary was $45,024. Contributions to the nonprofit in 2020 were reported to be $63,107.

Running for supervisor of elections will be Satcher’s third political campaign. He ran against Vern Buchanan for the 16th District House seat in 2016. Buchanan won with more than 80% of the votes. 

But Satcher’s next campaign was successful. He was elected to represent District 1 on the Manatee County Commission in 2020. Instead of running for reelection for his commission seat, Satcher will run against Farrington in the primary for the supervisor of elections job. Both are registered as Republicans. The job pays $178,586.

Farrington said he’s not dwelling on how things turned out with the governor’s appointment of Satcher over him. He’s preparing for the election as a candidate for the first time. He’s raised $10,300 toward his campaign. 

Satcher hasn’t filed for the position yet, but he raised $70,500 for his District 1 campaign. Considering the governor’s appointment, he said he was confident donors will agree to transfer their contributions to his new campaign.

Farrington worked alongside Bennett for his entire tenure. Before that, he worked in the Sarasota County election office for 10 years. He’s a Certified Election/Registration Administrator and a Master Florida Certified Election Professional. 

Farrington also holds a master’s degree in Information Systems Management from the University of South Florida. 

“Elections belong to all the people of Manatee County — not one party, not one specific group. I believe both parties truly want fair and honest elections,” Farrington said. “Having fair elections that people trust is very important, and the people of Manatee County deserve the choice of who can do that best.”

Bennett is biased. He wrote a recommendation letter to Gov. DeSantis on behalf of Farrington. Bennett said he sees Satcher’s choice of Ballard as his No. 2 as a mistake. 

Bennett said Farrington made up for any lack of election experience Bennett lacked when he first stepped into the role.

“The first thing it takes to run a successful election is to hire staff members who actually know something about elections and know how to manage people,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to have somebody who knows all of the intricacies, whether it's hiring poll workers or fixing IT issues.”

Farrington did both. His other title was Chief of Staff and Bennett said if a voting site was experiencing a technical issue, Farrington would drive over to fix it. 

Satcher addressed IT issues in his first week on the job during a special Manatee County Commission meeting April 16, but from the podium, not the dais. 

“One person left on Friday, of his own accord, and took all the passwords with him and refused to give them to our technology department when we called and asked for the passwords,” Satcher said. “That’s not the way we need to be running things in Manatee County.”

Satcher didn’t name names, but Farrington told the Observer that he did resign that Friday. He denied taking passwords with him and said no one called asking for passwords. 

Bennett said there would be no need to call Farrington because the No. 3 in the office, Sharon Stief, keeps all the passwords. He called Satcher’s statement a blatant lie. 

What does it take to run an election?

Passwords aside, Farrington held other invaluable information because he’s been in the field for over 20 years. One of the most important parts of the job is making sure the office stays in compliance with changing laws. 

“From a legal aspect, there are so many laws and administrative rules and opinions and court cases that play into (an election),” Farrington said. “It takes a couple of years before you even know what questions to ask.”  

Satcher said the law is one of Ballard’s strengths.

“He’s got extensive experience with state law, even writing and helping draft state laws,” Satcher said. “This job is statutorily intensive, so that comes in handy. He’s got finance experience, his undergraduate degree. We’re able to get a lot of return on investment for the taxpayer.” 

Farrington’s base salary was $175,177.60, and Ballard accepted the job for $120,000.

While Ballard will be paid a lower salary, he can’t take over for Farrington on the IT side. So Satcher is actively seeking to hire an additional person to fill that role. 

Both the new and old administration agree that IT is crucial in any election. Farrington said technology is in play from the moment a voter checks in.

Satcher told the commission that he wants to buy and implement products that will enhance voter security. He also said the precincts haven’t kept up with the population growth. 

Bennett has a record of smooth elections and said it didn’t require a bigger budget. It required the right people and political neutrality. Bennett didn’t allow political discussions inside the office. 

“You’ve got to have somebody who is truly politically neutral,” Bennett said. “It’s so important that people understand that because no matter whether it’s a Republican or Democrat, when they walk in, you should know that they’re going to be treated equally. 

Depending on the election, Farrington said it takes six months to a year to prepare. Outside of elections, staff stays on top of voter rolls, registration and education. He said people move and turn 18 every day. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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