Months before Florida helps pick a new president, county election experts are on alert for potential minefields, from a fickle statewide voter database to public confusion over shifting political boundaries.
At a conference at a Clearwater beach hotel, county supervisors of elections are discussing how to use social media to boost voter turnout, promote voting by mail and use new technology to ensure the most accurate results.
It’s a group proudly called “geeky” by its president, Brian Corley of Pasco County, who tweeted from the conference using the hashtag #proudelectiongeek.
These 67 people on the front line of democracy are indispensable to Florida’s goal of a trouble-free election in a year when the state will again be in the nation’s cross-hairs as a pivotal battleground state with a rocky electoral past.
Supervisors remain frustrated with an erratic state voter database managed by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration. They cite unpredictable breakdowns in the database that prevents newly registered voters from being added to the rolls.
“These unplanned roadblocks cause us to face more delays,” said Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux. “It’s just enough to really irritate people.”
To add to the uncertainty over the database, it needed a new home recently because it was housed in a building in Tallahassee known as Northwood Centre that was plagued with problems. Scott directed all state employees to vacate Northwood after the discovery of mold, bacteria, bat feces and water damage that has triggered lawsuits and complaints by hundreds of state workers.
Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, met with supervisors to discuss database problems Tuesday and his office has notified supervisors of what it calls “intermittent connectivity issues,” usually at night.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect the voter database,” said Detzner’s spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice.
Detzner will soon debut a voter education toolkit, ramping up of the use of social media to connect with voters.
Voter turnout in Florida’s presidential preference primary in March set a modern record of 46.2 percent. That has spurred talk that turnout in November could exceed 80 percent.
Florida has a record 12.1 million voters, and a lot of them will be getting voter registration cards listing new polling places in different districts — the result of a court-ordered remapping of congressional and state senate boundary lines.
On Wednesday, counties shared their experiences of promoting voting at schools, churches, libraries, parades, festivals, hockey games and immigration offices, as well as billboards and inserts in voters’ electric bills.
Broward County distributes a colorful card that looks like a scratch-off lottery ticket. A voter can scratch off the colors next to a traffic light logo to learn deadlines for submitting a vote-by-mail ballot.
“Please scratch off responsibly,” the text says, with a disclaimer that the county elections office “in no way promotes or supports gambling of any kind.”
Florida’s long history of political dirty tricks is always on the minds of elections officials, and Marion County Supervisor Wesley Wilcox experienced it first-hand Wednesday with discovery of a mysterious mailer that wrongly claimed it came from his office.
The mailer told people who gave money to Marion Sheriff Chris Blair’s re-election campaign to demand a refund.
Blair was suspended from office by Scott last week after being charged with perjury, but he’s still a candidate for re-election.
Wilcox said his office had nothing to do with the mailing.
If supervisors needed any reminder of the chaos of Florida’s five-week presidential recount of 2000, they didn’t have to go far.
Attracting attention at a vendor booth was Theresa LePore, the former Palm Beach County supervisor whose infamous “butterfly ballot” swung hundreds of Democrats who supported Al Gore to vote for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan in 2000.
LePore is elections liaison coordinator for Democracy Live, a vendor that promotes the use of electronic ballots for overseas, military and disabled voters.
She said hardly a day goes by that somebody doesn’t bring up the 2000 recount.
“I never know if someone is going to hit me or be nice to me,” LePore said.