She joined the elections department in 2003, as the department began a transformation following the disastrous 2002 primary. Inexperienced poll workers and problems with new touch-screen voting machines delayed polling places from opening, compelling officials to extend voting hours and apologize to voters. That mess came on the heels of the 2000 presidential recount and a 1997 Miami voter-fraud scandal.
Townsley, who came in as a deputy elections supervisor in charge of operations and was later promoted to chief deputy, remembers spending days drafting overseas absentee ballots using rustic Microsoft Word files. Evaluations in her personnel file praised her performance.
In 2007, former County Manager George Burgess moved Townsley from elections to head the department of small business development, where she reviewed contracts to create openings for small businesses and worked with construction, architecture and engineering firms to streamline the certification process for them to qualify for county work.
That job, she said, made her happy.
“I am a public servant at heart, and it just brings me so much joy, so much personal pleasure, in creating opportunities,” she said.
When Gimenez was elected, he promoted Sola, the elections supervisor, and offered Townsley the post.
“I was absolutely speechless,” she said. “He had to literally ask me, ‘Are you going to say anything?’ ”
Townsley, who was not raised in a political family and describes herself as apolitical, is one of four African-American women department directors in the county. Her base pay is about $147,700.
The mother of three children and one stepchild, and grandmother of nine (including a 2-month-old granddaughter she has been unable to spend much time with lately) lives in Doral — near the elections headquarters — and is married to Jeffrey Townsley, a bus operator and vice president of the county transit workers union. Her stepson, Jeffrey Townsley Jr., is also a county bus driver.
“She is a success story, as far as it relates to somebody coming into an organization and working her way up the ranks,” said Sola, who now heads the county’s internal services department.
Sola’s management team remained at elections, and Townsley’s direction was clear, she said: Don’t change a thing.
“It’s working,” she said. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”
But the job can be a pressure cooker.
“It’s a very difficult job,” Sola said. “You have an incredible amount of responsibility — not just to the electorate, to the citizens, but also statewide and nationally, to deliver fair and equitable elections.”
Under Townsley’s tenure, things went smoothly in a slew of municipal elections, the January presidential primary and the Aug. 14 statewide primary. The department came under scrutiny in the late summer after police arrested and charged two suspected absentee-ballot brokers in Hialeah.
Trouble arose last month, when early voting began for the general election.
The ballot was 10 to 12 pages long. Lines of voters extended for blocks. Early-voting sites closed hours after the last voter was allowed in line at 7 p.m. Townsley spent an entire day at a North Miami site, rejiggering the way it was set up and bringing in more equipment and poll workers.