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Palm Coast Prepares to Run Its Own Elections, But Cost Would Rise and Turnout Drop

| April 8, 2014

If Palm Coast were to hold its own elections in 2014, it would have just one voting location, likely the Palm Coast Community Center. (c FlaglerLive)

If Palm Coast were to hold its own elections in 2014, it would have just one voting location, likely the Palm Coast Community Center. (c FlaglerLive)

All is not lost: Palm Coast and the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections may yet work out their differences and work toward staging the 2014 municipal elections as originally planned, in conjunction with the year’s local, state and national elections.

But there’s still uncertainty over whether the talks will prove trustworthy or collapse in renewed recriminations. To that end, the Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday turned the tables on Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks. While not giving her an ultimatum, the council set out its own drop-dead deadline for Weeks and the council to mutually agree to terms controlling the supervisor’s running of the 2014 elections. That deadline is June 20, the last day of candidate qualifying for the election.

“We must be sure that there will be an election in Palm Coast,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said.

Despite her public rejection of compromise on Monday, Weeks has, according to City Manager Jim Landon, been in discussions with City Clerk Virginia Smith to resolve two sticking points in the agreement she wants the city to sign in order for her to carry out the elections. She may agree to change the language controlling the use of city facilities as precincts by conceding that she would invoke a change of venue only in case of an emergency, Landon said. And, although Weeks has not yet said so, she may agree to the more minor language change the city is looking for—to ensure that the elections make room for the unlikely possibility that a third council seat is up, should a current council member become incapacitated or dies.

“It sounds like we might, if Virginia and the supervisor will continue to communicate, we might be able to reach an agreement on the language,” Landon said Tuesday. “That’s what we should have been doing all along. And so we’re hoping that will happen.”

But the city has had such hopes before, only to be disappointed. Council member Bill McGuire doesn’t want to be at the mercy of the supervisor’s whims. He wants the city to be ready to run its own electiion if necessary. “I’m still concerned about the calendar,” he said. “I don’t want these good-faith discussions to go on and then all of a sudden we wake up one morning and find out there’s not enough time to put an election together. We should proceed down both roads and until we’ve got something signed in our hand.”

That’s what the city is doing. But should Palm Coast run its own election, it will be expensive—the cost will range between $40,000 and $50,000 for each election (primary and general)–and it will significantly hurt turnout, because the city is proposing to have just one voting precinct instead of six.

Smith outlined the city’s contingency plan to the council on Tuesday.

The election would be conducted the old fashioned way: through a paper ballot, with a manual count. But there would still be early voting, though also at only one location.

In 2011, to save money, the city reduced its polling locations from more than two dozen citywide precincts to just just six locations. Voters could vote at any of the six, rather than at assigned precincts, as in the past. The city traded the convenience of voters having their own voting precinct in their neighborhood with the convenience of voting anywhere, but at far fewer locations. Turnout plummeted. The 2011 elections produced the worst and second-worst voter turnouts in city history, with just 10.6 percent of registered voters casting a ballot in the primary and 11.6 percent casting one in the general. That primary was also the election when voters approved a referendum changing the city’s voting cycle to even-year elections, in hopes of saving money and improving turnout.

Neither is likely to happen should the city be forced to run its own election this year.

If Palm Coast runs its own election, it would do so on the same day as the primary and general elections, but in a parallel system—literally, in a different room, and only at the Palm Coast Community Center. In other words, a voter assigned a precinct at Buddy Taylor Middle School would have to cast a ballot there for county, state and federal elections, then drive to the community center to cast a ballot for the Palm Coast City Council election. Many will do so. Many very likely won’t. But the city is not willing to foot the price of running a broader election, because it would then have to multiply the number of poll workers—and their cost: In 2011, even the six locations cost the city close to $120,000. Printing costs alone will cost the city $34,000 for the primary and general ballots. Training poll workers costs $2,500 a day. Poll workers’ pay ranges from $8 to $15 an hour. “Elections are very, very expensive,” Smith said.

“If circumstances force us to go to this alternative,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said, “at least, from what I see, it will not be any more expensive. From a fiscal point of view we’re still ahead of the game compared to 2011. From ease of voting and all that, we’re not.”

But council members saw the disadvantages of the city running its own election, too. “I think it’s be wise to choose the lesser of two evils and make the agreement happen, whatever it takes,” David Ferguson, one of the council members whose seat is up this year, said, “rather than to consider this path to go down of a manual count, because I don’t think anybody wins in that regard.” Frguson was willing to go so far as to concede Weeks’s original stance: approve her agreement, without changes, or take a hike.

Ferguson is a moderate Republican who–should he run: he hasn’t announced (contrary to an earlier version of this story)-needs a larger turn-out to make it through, because a smaller turnout will be dominated by more activist, more extreme voters: Anne-Marie Shafer, a member of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, is running, as is Heidi Shipley.

Ironically, Weeks by law would still have to certify the election results. The city is researching whether it could have its clerk do so instead.

“Preferably we’re going to reach an agreement with the supervisor of elections and things will go smoothly,” Netts said. “At some point, however, I use the term drop dead, at some point we’re going to start incurring hard costs, we’re going to pay for this poll worker training, we’re going to pay for ballot boxes, we’re going to pay for the printing. I just want to know, I want to be advised when that date comes, when you must start incurring hard costs. Because at that point you’ve made a decision. You’re going down a road you cannot retreat from.”

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20 Responses for “Palm Coast Prepares to Run Its Own Elections, But Cost Would Rise and Turnout Drop”

  1. Rob says:

    Now Palm Coast what to try its hand at running an election? This will be like a keystone cops comedy. For starters voters having to cast votes in two different locations is about as backwards as can be.
    How is Palm Coast trying to run its own election turning the tables on Mrs Weeks? She won’t be losing anything if the city goes about this potential blunder. This would be typical Palm Coast, embarking on a costly endeavor and one which they have little to no experience.

    On the other hand why would cost matter to the town council. Heck, the city owns a golf course that runs a significant deficit and a tennis center that does the same. They don’t seem to care about those loses so why whould it matter what an election costs?

  2. DJSII says:

    I’m with Netts and the rest of the City Council. Let’s avoid an honest election no matter what it costs.

  3. New Supervisor Please says:

    Hey, Kim Weeks, thanks for nothing. I will be voting AGAINST you in 2016.

  4. KB63 says:

    I don’t live in the city of Palm Coast – your council right now is making the Bunnell commission look like geniuses – but if I did, whether it’s held by Weeks or the City, I would find every possible way & means to get myself and everyone I know to the polling place to vote out anyone I could that is sitting on that board right now. This is typical of this City Council – “we can do what we want, when we want, and you will do it our way” regardless of any consequences to the people we are supposed to represent. They have no business running an election, Weeks placed special language in the agreement because of past experiences in dealing with them. Sign the agreement & let her run a fair election for the good of the people. If this doesn’t happen it will be an incredible injustice to the residents of Palm Coast.

  5. Freddy says:

    Vote them all out in the next election.

  6. Yellowstone says:

    This says it all (Landon quote): “It sounds like we might, if Virginia and the supervisor will continue to communicate, we might be able to reach an agreement on the language. That’s what we should have been doing all along. And so we’re hoping that will happen.”

  7. Dennis McDonald says:

    The City website listing for todays meeting contains backup at the end of the online notification that speaks of having ONE polling location for 53,000 VOTERS ! You can not be serious.
    This beats out Bill Lewis’s statement about not caring if the Voters are inconvenienced.

    Dennis McDonald

    • Oops says:

      Perhaps you should be the bigger person and advise mrs. Weeks to hold the election. That way people can have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice in a convienent place and you can get back to campaigning.

  8. City made fools of themselves says:

    The city has a power point on their website for their workshop today for them to hold their own election and can you believe they intend to only have one polling location for all the voters in the city and it is going to be a manual count election?

    They also go on to say the council designates the canvassing board in election procedures ordinance and a ballot referendum was passed by the voters in 2011 that they may not want to honor now which would require the SOE to conduct the election and the County Canvassing Board to canvass the election.

    The SOE was given a hard time because this City wants to be conduct their own elections and needs to blame it on someone for being able to brake away…..if they were comfortable enough to do it at this time they would.

  9. someonethatlikestoread says:

    Cost rising? Pfffft….as if that’s something new. The city has YET to figure out a way to budget.

  10. Flem says:

    I’m SICK & TIRED of these “worthless” city council members and the mayor. Hold election any damn way you can so I can VOTE you losers OUT !!!!!

  11. Brad says:

    I say we hold our own election, because we can no longer trust our Supervisor at her word and truly provide the voters of Palm Coast the right to vote for their City leadership. If we are going to incur costs then let them be for our election an NOT to cover things like legal fees for Supervisor Weeks.

    Tallahassee I am sure will not be happy at all about that scenario and I m sure will have quite a few questions as well as making sure both elections are put under the microscope. I would suggest Ms. Weeks be prepared for that traffic to her office.

  12. Call the ACLU and have them on stand by says:

    The city is full of more shit than the septic tank. There is no way in hell they can run an election. Paper ballot/manual count… about chisel and stone? One voting location, really….for nearly 55,000 voters? How absurd. How does the city intend to train poll workers when they aren’t themselves trained? The City doesn’t even know who is to canvass their election. How are absentee ballots going to be mailed and tracked and countd? What will they do if a voter shows up to vote that doesn’t have ID, or who has just moved into the city? How big is this one voting room going to be, is there going to be enough parking? I think the ACLU needs to be contacted now in case this silly circus leader and his clowns decide to rely on their plan “b”. The supervisor may give out of patience of trying them to do what is right and focus on her own county elections. To think, this city thought they were qualified to issue the supervisor an agreement—they are so clueless that its scary!

  13. Genie says:

    Re having only one polling location, I suggest we designate either the home of the Mayor or the City Manager.

    If these people don’t watch it, they are going to be the subject of a major violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. I believe an adequate number of polling locations is included in that law.

    Now who’s idea is it to only have one polling location?

  14. Steve Wolfe says:

    Can we possibly have the epitome of arrogance, the model of mismanagement, the boldest finger pointers, and the most condescending representatives in NE Florida?

  15. Mike says:

    The City of Palm Coast needs to take off the blinders of their political power; you are commissioners in a small city with no industry, not LA or NY. You should be finding a way or asking the state of FL to force Kim Weeks (that arrogant politician) to do what her elected position requires, to run an election. The main theme of all the problems here is clear; its politicians who cause 90% of the issues stop acting like power hungry individuals or spoiled children and fix the issues. If the SOE and the PC City Council cannot fix what is wrong remove them from office, the new people may not be any better but we cannot reward failure with being voted back in to the office they do not properly represent. People send a clear message of your disgust (if this is how you feel) and remove the lazy, the weak minded and those with no true vision of growth for our area. Remember with out industry the entire tax burden will fall on Homeowners in the future and that will mean huge tax increases for all.

  16. tulip says:

    For many reasons, I think it would be in the BEST INTERESTS of Palm Coast to sign an agreement with the SOE and then in 2 years remember NOT to re-elect Weeks.

    Does anyone really believe 53,000 people will actually show up to vote for 2 city council seats, especially if they had to go to a place to vote on county commissioner, etc, ballot and then back to PC to vote for councilmen. It would be nice if 53,000 people really cared that much and went out and voted period,. Fat chance.
    Just look back at some of the voting records.

  17. MaryJo says:

    :rofl: They are going to run an election? They can’t even get the building department to work all on the same system…are you KIDDING ME??? *sigh* Jason, please, please tell me you are pushing to have this handled within Kim’s parameters vs this ridiculous idea of doing our own elections. This is absurd. It’s like a peeing match for god sakes, with my rights. Disgusting.

  18. Genie says:

    I could be wrong but it seems to me that one polling site is not enough for a city of this size. Maybe it’s time for a class action lawsuit against the city by the registered voters here in Palm Coast.

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