Kaiti Lenhart, Flagler County Supervisor Of Elections Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | July 11, 2016
Note: Today we begin publishing the Live Interview with candidates for local office, starting with the Elections Supervisor race. Individual interviews will post every morning at 10. We start with incumbent Kaiti Lenhart, followed by the other two candidates in the race, by alphabetical order–Kimble Medley on Tuesday, Abra Seay on Wednesday. Interviews with candidates for sheriff begin publishing Thursday. On occasion, follow-up questions may be added to an interview even after it’s been posted.
Incumbent Kaiti Lenhart is a candidate for Flagler County Supervisor of Elections. Her opponents are Kimble Medley and Abra Seay. All three are Republicans.
In this race, the vote on Aug. 30 is not a primary: it is, in fact, the deciding election, because no Democrats or independents are running. Whoever wins on Aug. 30, even if by less than 50 percent, will be the Supervisor for the next four years.
Because it is the deciding election, all registered voters, regardless of affiliation, may cast a vote in this contest on Aug. 30 (or in early voting).
None of the three candidates have won an election before. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Lenhart to the position after Kimberle Weeks, who had been supervisor for six years, resigned in January 2015 in a swirl of controversies that preceded her indictment on 12–now reduced to nine–felony charges for allegedly illegally recording phone conversations. Weeks’s tenure was roiled by her combative confrontations with local government agencies, including Palm Coast and, more bitterly, county government, culminating in the political-circus atmosphere of the canvassing board meetings in which she participated, and on the periphery of which some of the recordings were made on her cell phone.
That history has inevitably framed the current campaign as the candidates hoping to be the next elected supervisor each in her way seeks to project a new, non-partisan, non-controversial regime.
The supervisor of elections is paid just over $100,000 a year, following a raise approved by the Legislature in spring. The salary is set by state law, based on county population, but paid out of local dollars.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- What qualifies you to run?
- Character and temperament
- Post-Kimberle Weeks
- Office needs
- Election errors
- Felons’ voting rights
- Length of early voting
- Precincts: too few, too many?
- Turnout accountability
- Criminal record
- Individualized question
- Bonus check statement
Place and Date of Birth: Daytona Beach, March 2, 1981.
Current job: Flagler County Supervisor of Elections
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth: $90,605 (See the financial disclosure)
I was appointed as the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections in January 2015 by the Governor of Florida. I am the only candidate with years of Elections Administration experience working in the Flagler County Elections Office. Nearly seven years of experience and a full, working knowledge of the Florida Election Law has allowed me to become a hands-on Supervisor, leading the team in all aspects necessary to conduct a successful election. I have a proven record of fierce dedication and tackling challenges head-on, even when the challenge seems impossible. I have passion for elections because I believe in the process. The Supervisor of Elections provides the most essential function of local government: the free election of our representatives in Federal, state and local offices. When the Secretary of State called and asked if I would accept the appointment as Supervisor of Elections, I accepted without hesitation. After my appointment on January 9, 2015, I conducted a successful county-wide Special Election only 18 days later. I made a commitment to the Elections Office staff, poll workers and voters of this county: I promised to never quit. To me, it’s all about perspective. Each and every problem is a unique opportunity for a solution. I believe I was appointed by the Governor, not because I have political connections in the county, but because I am the only person with the knowledge, experience and enthusiasm needed to rebuild public confidence in the electoral process. My county needed me during a time of crisis and I have worked tirelessly to rebuild the Elections Office from the ground up. Since my appointment, I haven’t stopped working to restore relationships between other local agencies while creating an atmosphere of teamwork and transparency. I have given my staff, your Elections Team, the tools, the training and the encouragement they need to become knowledgeable leaders in the work they accomplish every day to serve the voters of this county.
I am a Florida Certified Elections Professional and have a Level II Certification in a nationally-awarded continuing education program (FCEP) for Elections Officials. I have conducted three county-wide elections in Flagler County successfully as Supervisor of Elections. I have assisted with or conducted 20 Federal, state, local and/or municipal elections in Flagler County since 2009. Many Supervisors in the State of Florida (St. Johns County, Clay County, Marion County, Hillsborough County, Levy County, Glades County, Gulf County, etc.) were once staff members with years of experience, and I believe this unique experience of an Elections Office employee creates the foundation needed for a great leader as Supervisor of Elections.
Prior to my public service, I launched my career with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Central Florida. I have sixteen (16) years of experience in the private sector as a Senior Graphic Designer and Web Developer, working for local businesses and owned my own business for seven years as a Freelance Designer and Web Developer. I’m no stranger to working long hours and I have an entrepreneurial perspective when it comes to problem solving.
As Supervisor of Elections, I am very actively participating in the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections (FSASE). I have found ways to share my career experience in marketing, advertising, graphic design and Web development with other county Supervisor of Elections to help improve the elections experience in the state of Florida. I currently serve on three FSASE Committees: the Civic Engagement Committee, the Online Voter Implementation Committee and the Administrative Rules Committee. Each committee is comprised of a diverse group of Supervisors of Elections who work together to develop strategies, share knowledge and build best practices in their focus area. The productivity from each of these committees is then shared with all Florida Supervisor of Elections. My vision is to continue to work together other Supervisors, building these relationships and building our collective knowledge to conduct the best elections right here in Flagler. The Flagler County Elections Office is no longer an island, standing alone. We are working with other professionals in our industry and the outcome will be excellence, for the voters of Flagler County.
After the 2015 Special Elections were concluded, I saw the busy 2016 election season on the horizon. I began planning immediately because I knew there was much to accomplish in a short time for the Elections Office to be ready to meet the needs of voters during this historic election season. The entire state of Florida is primed for record-breaking turnout this year. We met the challenge and succeeded during the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary with over 49% of eligible voters casting a ballot and breaking local records for an election of this type. For the first time in Flagler County, ballots were printed as they were needed during early voting. I implemented this new technology to save money and improve accuracy with Ballot On Demand printers, paid for with Federal grant funds. Federal grants haven’t been applied for since 2010 in the Elections Office. I led negotiations with the Department of State to secure over $147,000 of Federal funding towards the purchase of a much needed and state-mandated new voting system for our county. All of this and more has been accomplished within the past 18 (almost 19) months.
There is much work yet to be done. During the second quarter of next year, the Flagler County Elections Office will be implementing a completely new voting system. Online voter registration will be production-ready in October 2017. I will be serving on the Online Voter Registration Implementation Committee to make voter registration more accessible for citizens across the state of Florida. Flagler County voters deserve a Supervisor of Elections with the experience and the dedication to continue to take this Elections Office to the next level. I am running for office because I know that I have the ability and the vision to achieve these goals.
2. Describe your character and temperament, and what people you’ve worked with—or customers you’ve interacted with—would say are your most serious personal flaws, in so far as how they affect your job. What do you do to address those flaws? (Please don’t interpret the question as a way to veil qualities as flaws. In other words, please don’t tell us you work too hard or are too honest or too much of a perfectionist, but rather, tell us honestly where you need most self-improvement, but only within the scope of your public job, not in your private life, which is not our business.)
I like to say I am the friendliest Supervisor of Elections in the State of Florida. I have a very positive attitude because I love people and truly enjoy the work that I do. This is evident to people who work with me. My office door is always open to citizens and staff. If anyone has a question, I answer them promptly. I have always taken the extra time for each citizen, news reporter, college student, other agency staff member or anyone who contacts the Elections Office and I am always responsive by email. I am not afraid of answering tough questions. I am level-headed, cool and collected during stressful situations. People who have worked with me will attest that I have a very strong work ethic and I do not compromise for quality. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. I also strongly believe in leading by example and servant leadership. I never ask my staff to do anything I haven’t done myself, or wouldn’t do in any given situation. I work as hard as they do, every day of the week.
Since my appointment, I have found a serious personal flaw that I wouldn’t have realized otherwise. It’s delegation. I was an employee in the office for nearly six years and although the appointment as Supervisor of Elections was sudden, the transition to supervising has been a long process. Staff members have received intensive training over the past several months, learning how to do what I have done for years. Staff members now have job titles and job descriptions within their specific areas of responsibility. They have been cross-trained in several areas of the elections process to ensure the continuity of operations. Through this reorganization, I have had to learn to “let go” of many areas of the process to let my trained staff have the opportunity to take ownership for themselves. Although I am always involved and often still teaching, I am pleased to say that now I am supervising. A successful election is no accident. It is the result of an organized, properly-trained staff that communicates effectively and works together in everything as a team. There are areas where I realize I still need to delegate and I plan to train staff members in the future to perform some more complicated areas of the process. They simply need more time and experience to take on more responsibilities. Other areas though, such as Web development, creating the Sample Ballot or legal advertising, I plan to continue. I am the only Supervisor in the state of Florida with an extensive background in graphic design and Web development, so I may never give up the website or advertising.
An area of self-improvement that I would like to explore is becoming more knowledgeable of the complex inner-workings of Flagler County government, policies and procedures to effectively work with other departments. I would like all full-time staff members to attend the Flagler County Citizen’s Academy to learn more about other departments and agencies as well. I would also like to take time to visit more county Elections Offices to learn and share best practices.
How do you handle being challenged–by a staff member, a pol worker, a candidate or a member of the public?
First of all, I take the time to listen to their concerns. I give them the opportunity to completely explain the issue or complaint. There is always a reasonable solution or explanation found in the Florida Statutes, administrative rules or opinions from the Division of Elections to clarify the application of Election Law. Over the past nearly seven years, I have encountered many situations in which a candidate, voter and even poll workers simply have misinformation concerning a specific issue (examples: closed primaries, required voter ID, 100-foot no solicitation zone outside a polling place, photography in a polling place, etc.). Again, I don’t take things personally. I understand that your voting right is precious, and I know that I am doing my best to uphold the law to ensure fair, honest and efficient elections. I clearly explain the reasoning behind the policies which are in place. Once a person understands the law, the issue is usually resolved. However, I do not tolerate abusive behavior. If a person becomes vulgar and verbally abusive or threatens physical violence, the conversation is over. Unfortunately, it’s happened.
As far as challenges from staff members, I take the same approach. People most often want to be heard and they want to know their opinions are valued. My door is always open and I take time for staff every day. In addition, we have staff meetings every Monday morning with an opportunity for each person to share. My staff members know they can come to me with any issue or concern and they know I will listen objectively and take their concerns to heart, not only listening, but acting upon their request. I rely heavily on the insight from staff members because they each have a unique perspective from the experience in their daily work. When challenged, I often find an area which needs improvement, or in the very least I can understand their perspective and we find a compromise which works best for everyone. In the event we disagree completely and the staff member continues to challenge something which is non-negotiable, I explain my reasoning to make sure they understand why there will be no compromise. I respect my staff members and expect that respect in return. Honestly, challenges from staff members do not happen very often and I believe that is because of my open communication and honest approach with them. Many issues are resolved quickly and before they become complicated by time and emotion.
See a related follow-up question at the foot of the interview.
3. Felony indictments aside, what, in your analysis, were the most serious flaws of the Kim Weeks administration of the SOE office? How do you propose to separate your administration from that previous one, and how will you avoid conflicts between the SOE and the county commission, which holds budgetary sway over the supervisor?
The drama and chaos surrounding the Supervisor of Elections Office during the prior administration created a poor public image and caused damage to the public confidence in the electoral process. One of my favorite elections quotes is, “Voters must have faith in the electoral process for democracy to succeed.” (former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln). I firmly believe that a community is made stronger by an engaged and active electorate. As Supervisor of Elections, I have worked to restore integrity and public trust in the process through working relationships with other government agencies, effective voter outreach and by promoting transparency. The focus is now on the voters of Flagler County.
Under the prior administration, leadership of the office was driven by fear and paranoia. There was no vision for the future, no desire to improve operations and certainly no room for opinions or advice. We were only just getting by with what we had to work with, nothing more and everything less. I remember when I was hired in 2009, we were using Microsoft Office 2000 and only one computer had the capability to produce a PDF document. The fax machine was broken and only one office printer was reliable. Staff members were using hand-written envelopes instead of taking advantage of efficient, built-in solutions such as mail merge. Calculators and written ledgers were used instead of formulas in Excel spreadsheets. None of the workstations were configured to receive Windows Updates automatically and I quickly became responsible for managing the entire office’s IT needs and training staff members how to use their software. I had never seen an office environment so completely behind in basic technology, it was shocking. The general attitude about this issue and most other issues was always… that’s somebody else’s fault or “the budget.” Other government agencies were viewed as potential threats. For whatever reason, the use of common-sense technology was intimidating. This was the Flagler County Elections Office, the agency wholly responsible for one of our most precious rights as American citizens, the right to vote and we were writing on envelopes! It took years to change that attitude, to embrace technology so we could be working smarter, not harder. I guess it’s not a surprise that working in the Elections Office has never been easy. Since the day I was hired, I knew this would be the most important work I’ve ever done. During my years as a Deputy Supervisor of Elections, my job was always a challenge but I made a commitment to myself and focused my energy on learning everything I could about Election Law while doing my best for the team, for every person who visited the office or contacted the office by phone. One day at a time.
There was only so much that I could do as an employee. As Supervisor of Elections, the office has been transformed into a completely different place. Over the past almost 19 months, we have been tackling each of these issues and many more. One by one, rebuilding this office into what it is today – a resource for Flagler County voters. Leading the state the in many areas of Elections Administration, we have become a resource for other Elections Offices. It’s a joy and a privilege to share what we have achieved with others and to be serving at full potential for our voters here in Flagler.
Since I was appointed, I have a long list of improvements to the office which are detailed on my website.
We learned through the state investigation of Weeks that she extracted the office from the county’s web servers and had the SOE’s website hosted independently because she allegedly feared having her email being read. Is that accurate? If so, to what extent did you handle that, is that still the case and why?
This is simply not accurate. First of all, web servers and email servers by nature, are separate entities. In my experience, the Elections Office website and email have never been hosted by the county. When I was hired in 2009, I set my sights on a much needed redevelopment of the Elections Office website to make it a resource for voters. I started in August, we conducted a Special Election in September and again in October. After the election cycles were completed, I began developing the web site using a content management system and database, moving from static HTML to the 21stcentury. I worked directly with the web server, at that time the website was hosted by iPower. I administered the email accounts for staff, which were also hosted by iPower. In 2013, after changes in legislation, a decision was made to move the web server to our voter registration vendor, to take advantage of more advanced features such as the voter registration lookup. At that time, email accounts were moved to another company and the web site was hosted by VR Systems. Flagler County was the first site to implement a content management system through our current vendor and I helped develop the framework on our county’s website which is now used throughout the state of Florida. This remains as the current administration of email and web hosting. Fear or paranoia concerning access to emails, other than having a secure password for the accounts, is irrational.
Flagler County is in need of new voting equipment. We are facing a state mandate to upgrade our touch screen tabulators by the year 2020. Our current equipment is 18 years old and parts for replacement are becoming scarce, parts which are necessary to keep our voting system operational. In October 2015, I learned of a Federal grant at the state level which was appropriated for voting systems in the state of Florida. I quickly began researching this grant because I knew we would need these funds in Flagler County to purchase a new voting system. I lead the charge with two other Supervisors of Elections to secure this funding for thirteen counties in the State of Florida that also have aged voting equipment and need to upgrade. We all knew a new voting system was going to be expensive. That’s why the Federal grant funds are so important. Counties need these funds to meet the state requirement to upgrade. What seemed impossible two years ago is happening right now in Flagler County. We will receive over $147,000 towards the purchase of our new voting system to be installed 2017, after the scheduled municipal elections and we will be election ready for the Gubernatorial cycle in 2018.
The county commission approved a $545,000 investment in equipment in May, resolving that equipment issue. But are there other financial investments necessary that haven’t yet been approved and you consider essential? How would you secure that money?
I believe the Elections Office is well-funded to operate within the current budget and I do not foresee any other necessary financial investments at this time.
5. What specific procedures would you put in place or refine to minimize errors and increase efficiency in the elections process, including rapid and accurate results reporting from precincts on election nights?
Elections are complicated by the sheer number of ballot styles during Early Voting and on Election Day. In a Primary Election, a voter receives a ballot based upon their registered party affiliation and precinct location. In this upcoming Primary Election, we have 116 ballot styles – a record for Flagler County. I realized this problem years ago when poll workers were struggling with the various styles during Early Voting. Any registered and eligible voter may vote early at any one of three sites in the county. Imagine a poll worker must choose the one correct style out of 100 or more variations for each individual voter. I expect 20,000 voters to choose early voting during the General Election this year. When I was appointed Supervisor of Elections, I began researching a solution. In many other counties, ballots are printed during early voting with equipment known as “Ballot on Demand.” During my research, I found Federal grant funds were available for the purchase of this equipment. Ballot on Demand printing was introduced during the Presidential Preference Primary election and all early voters received their correct ballot style. The county saved an estimated $6,500 on the cost of printed ballots which are required in an enormous quantity to supply each of the three sites with sufficient stock for each possible voter. Ballot on Demand printing will be a cost-effective solution during every election for each voter who wishes to vote early in Flagler County. Flagler was one of the last counties of our size to implement this technology and I made it happen with Federal grant funding.
Since my appointment, we have increased the number of polling sites which modem in results on election night by activating analog phone lines and replacing faulty modems in the tabulators. Elections results are transmitted by analog phone lines on election night and the modems and phone lines must be tested prior to each election to ensure functionality. Many phone lines in our polling locations have been upgraded to digital lines. The new technology is incompatible with the elections results reporting using our current voting system. This problem will be solved with our new voting system which uses an encrypted wireless modem to send results immediately on election night. This exciting innovation will solve the problem going forward with all county-wide elections in 2017 and beyond.
Given its value in reducing errors, when will the ballot-on-demand system be expanded to all precincts, and how will you secure the money to do so?
I am not aware of any other jurisdiction in Florida using Ballot On Demand printers in polling locations on Election Day. The reason is three-fold: cost, logistics and support. The first concern is cost. The Federal grant used to purchase these printers for early voting would not be enough to cover the cost of 47 printers (two in each current voting location, plus three additional for large precincts is a rough estimate). This cost would not be the printers alone, we would need locked cages to securely store them in a polling location. The initial cost and on-going cost of maintenance to implement this system would not provide a justified return on the investment. Secondly, printers do not travel well. Each printer weighs approximately 80 pounds. Properly transporting these 47 printers to our current 22 polling locations in the county would be a logistical nightmare. The calibration settings are very sensitive and the paper trays must be adjusted carefully and tested prior to use. After delivery, they would require thorough testing to ensure tabulation of the printed ballots. Thirdly, we would need a mobile IT unit or trained printer specialists as an additional election worker at each precinct to provide specialized support and troubleshoot any issues on Election Day. Due to these concerns and the cost factor, I do not recommend Ballot On Demand as a solution for precinct voting. Purchasing printed paper ballots to supply our precincts will probably always be most cost effective and efficient. Ballot On Demand, however, remains a perfect solution for our early voting sites. Especially during this Primary Election where otherwise, we would be providing 116 ballot styles for more than 77,000 registered voters at three early voting sites in the county. We are saving a substantial amount of money on the cost of printed ballots again during this election with the Ballot On Demand system. I have ordered a supply of backup ballots in case of power outage or an isolated printer failure. Flagler County will be saving money on the cost of printed ballots for early voting during every election with Ballot On Demand.
According to my research, Florida is one of only two states remaining that does not have a process to automatically restore the voting rights to individuals upon the completion of their sentence. A convicted felon in Florida must apply for the restoration of their civil rights, including their right to vote, with the Office of Executive Clemency. I have heard from voters who have experienced a delay when dealing with the Office of Executive Clemency. Current law allows for the restoration of their rights and I believe that priority should be given to these individuals to process their paperwork so they can have a voice on Election Day. The right of citizens to vote is clearly detailed in the U.S. Constitution. I do not believe in lifetime disenfranchisement of these citizens who have served their sentence and paid their dues.
Our voter registration records are cross-checked with information from the Department of Corrections and we regularly receive information from the Department of State concerning voters who have been convicted of a felony. These records are processed routinely and according to the schedule prescribed in Florida Statutes, Section 98.075(5).
More information about the process of Civil Rights Restoration in Florida is provided for the public on the Elections Office website.
7. If you’re asked by the Secretary State or the Legislature whether the early voting period is too long or not, what would be your response and why? As a Supervisor of Elections, it would be within your discretion to add early voting days beyond the minimum mandatory period of eight days, up to and including the last Sunday before Election Day. To what extent if any would you take advantage of that allowance?
Voters love the opportunity to choose the time and place to cast their ballot. The convenience and freedom of early voting, and voting by mail, is becoming more popular throughout the state of Florida. I believe the early voting period with the current flexibility is sufficient and the recent change in Legislation to expand the locations for early voting will be necessary as Flagler County continues to grow. I have chosen to extend the required 8 days of early voting and will conduct 13 days of early voting for both the Primary and General Elections at three locations in Flagler County. This is an increase of one early voting site since the last Presidential election cycle, which should help to alleviate the wait time during early voting for the General Election in November. Other county Supervisors choose to have only 8 days for a Primary, due to turnout. I believe that Primary Elections are essential, those extra days could drive turnout if someone sees the “Vote Here” signs and stops by during early voting. Every vote counts!
Another important consideration for voters is the time of day for early voting. I have analyzed the hourly turnout for early voting to optimize the tax dollars spent to provide this service. Early voting will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for every election while I am Supervisor of Elections. Here’s why… first of all, conducting early voting during “banking hours” from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. defeats the purpose of convenience. I decided to change the time of day to make it cost-effective and more accessible for voters. Historically, we have seen a low turnout from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. which does not justify the cost of opening the polls during that time frame. Opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m. has produced a solid turnout during those eight hours, with an extended time of day for those who wish to vote on their way home from work. Keeping the voting times the same for every election, including Special Elections or independent Municipal Elections, will help our voters who vote early during every election plan their day. Hopefully after a few elections, everyone will remember that the polls will be open from 10 – 6 during early voting.
8. Between early voting and voting by mail, far fewer people are voting in person on Election Day. Assess the effectiveness and geographical fairness of the current number of precincts, explaining where, if any, some might be closed and others opened. If you favor expanding the total number of precincts, how would you justify that in light of the falling numbers of in-person voters, and how would you finance the expansion?
In 2012, the polling locations were consolidated. For the record, I would like to clarify that my input was not accepted as an employee during this process in 2012. As Supervisor of Elections, I have been planning for future changes to the precincts in our county. The current locations must be expanded to accommodate voters in some areas, such as the VFW Post 8696 (Precinct 23) with over 8,000 registered voters. An additional precinct must be opened in this area next year. I have toured Matanzas High School and have the approval of the Flagler County Schools Superintendent to use this location as a polling place. Other areas may require the expansion of additional polling places as our community continues to grow.
We can no longer think of Flagler County as a small county. Our voter registration totals have been growing steadily over the past several years, despite the years of economic downturn. We currently number over 77,000 registered voters, who make Flagler a “medium” sized county (over 75,000). I meet voters nearly every day who have recently moved to Flagler County and visit the Elections Office to register to vote for the first time. I have developed a “New Resident Voter Packet” filled with elections information to help these new residents become acquainted with election laws in the state of Florida. We live in a very diverse community of citizens who have moved to Flagler County from all over the United States and all over the world. With continued growth in many areas of our county, it will be necessary to make adjustments to our current precincts in these areas.
Let’s talk about geographical fairness. I have heard from many voters who wish to have their neighborhood precinct restored in Rima Ridge, Haw Creek and Espanola. Precinct changes were made effective on May 9, 2012 and as of April 30, 2012 the registration totals for these three precincts show that 833 voters were affected. Twelve precincts were consolidated from 34 to what we have now, 23 precincts at 22 polling locations on Election Day. In 2012, there were over 67,000 registered voters. In the past four years since 2012, we have seen an increase of 10,000 registered voters to a total of 77,088. Many of the smallest precincts were closed and the polling locations were moved to other facilities. A total of twelve locations were moved or consolidated, including the three previously mentioned in Bunnell and other locations in Beverly Beach, the Hammock and Palm Coast. Voters may remember these polling locations: Palm Coast Yacht Club, Surfside Estates, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, First AME Church of Palm Coast, Hancock Bank, Hammock Community Building, Hammock First Baptist Church, African American Cultural Society and the Portuguese American Cultural Club. Polling locations were changed for thousands of voters, mostly due to 2010 Census population information and the Legislative and Congressional district lines were changed as part of the process of reapportionment throughout the state of Florida.
An additional location in the western side of the county should be considered for those voters who wish to vote at their precinct, taking into account the cost of equipment and clear justifications for the resources needed to staff and equip the precinct(s) based upon population and distance to and from the eligible polling sites. The counter argument to precinct voting, which you mentioned, will always be the option for any eligible voter to cast their ballot by mail or during early voting. There’s no way around it, precincts cost money. Resource allocation must be analyzed and the cost justified in order to make reasonable solutions. Much has changed in the process of conducting elections since 2012. We are now using electronic equipment (EViDs) instead of paper registers for voter check-in at the polls. We have just enough equipment for three early voting sites and 22 polling locations. I have explained to concerned voters that we simply do not have enough of this equipment to open several additional precincts. Funding for equipment would be an increase to the Elections Office budget and must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. Any changes to precinct boundaries must also be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. I expect the Board of County Commissioners would make reasonable decisions based upon legitimate research and clear explanations to show precincts are needed in areas justified by population and voter access. During 2017, it is my plan to complete this research and draw a new precinct map based upon voter input for consideration by the Board of County Commissioners.
You gave us a good historical analysis of the precinct situation, but not a clear sense of where you believe is the tipping point that justifies a precinct in a relatively lightly populated area, now that we have all those other alternatives. Is there such an under-served area now?
I grew up in Ormond Beach just a few miles from Rima Ridge. I know exactly how far these voters will travel on Election Day to reach their polling location. Voters in this area have the farthest to drive on Election Day, over 20 miles from Rima Ridge to their location at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Old Dixie Highway. I believe there are voters in several areas of the county which could benefit from a closer polling location, especially west of US1 and in current precincts 1, 3, 5 and 7. I attempted to explain the details of this very complicated issue to give everyone a good understanding of the considerations which must take place before opening a polling location. It would sound nice for me to say I’d like to open a few more precincts, but I have not completed an analysis of the facilities available for use as polling sites. I’m not interested in playing the political game of promising precinct locations. Precinct changes throughout the county are inevitable during 2017 for the person elected as Supervisor of Elections, in both lightly populated areas and heavily populated areas. The entire map must be re-considered to provide better access for all voters. The cost of opening a precinct must justify the location, it must be an accessible facility with ample parking, located in the most convenient location for the most amount of people. I plan to start there and I have some creative ideas to gather input from voters throughout the process. Voters should be involved! The process of re-drawing the entire county precinct map should be transparent and open to public input. I would like to host meetings concerning the precinct changes and meet with voters in their neighborhoods.
Voter education is a function of the Supervisor of Elections. Voter turnout is ultimately driven by candidates, media attention and general interest in the options on the ballot. My goal is to continue to build an informed, active electorate to successfully conduct the fair election of our representatives. Voter outreach is now a priority and I have expanded the reach of voter education through various forms of media. In January 2016, I personally designed and created the Flagler County Citizen’s Guide To Registering & Voting to prepare our electorate for the 2016 election cycle. This mailing was paid by Federal grant funds and mailed to every household and PO Box in Flagler County. We received thousands of Florida Voter Registration Applications and many Vote by Mail requests from citizens across the county.
I have expanded voter education to include advertising on local radio stations and live appearances on various stations, more print advertising in the Palm Coast Observer and News Journal. We are reaching voters through Social Media outlets through Flagler County Elections Office pages on Facebook, Google + and Twitter. For the first time in Flagler County, you can see real-time updates and stay current with local elections information through social media.
Voter outreach has never been a priority. I have implemented a focused Voter Outreach Program to take the Elections Office into the community at all major local events and festivals. Voter Outreach is an essential function of the Supervisor of Elections and necessary to conduct a successful election. Citizens of our county need every opportunity to register to vote, to update their voter registration and they need current elections information and deadlines in order to be election ready. We have conducted 18 voter outreach drives since August 2015 and the Voter Outreach Team has distributed thousands of Voter’s Guides with important local elections information to help voters prepare for this important election year. As a result of the Flagler County Voter Outreach Program, we have received over 280 completed voter registration applications during these outreach drives, including new voter registrations and voter registration updates, a record for Flagler County.
Another important aspect of voter outreach is getting the next generation involved in the process. I am working as part of the Civic Engagement Committee with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida to provide a state-wide mock election for middle and high school students during November 2016. Our goal is to have a million students vote for President and local races in each county in Florida. Next year we will have a new voting system and I plan to expand our outreach and build partnerships with the Flagler County Schools to provide a real voting experience using the new equipment for students in our county. These are some of the elections we can conduct for students: Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Program (elementary and middle schools), mock elections as part of the 7th Grade civics curriculum (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act), Student Government, Homecoming and Superlative elections in high schools.
So no accountability for turnout?
We saw record-breaking turnout during the Presidential Preference Primary election. Was that because of the heightened media interest in this election cycle? Yes. Was it because Florida is the third largest state and the largest swing state in the nation? Yes. Was it because I sent a county-wide mailing, offered voter outreach at events and increased advertising outlets to encourage voter registration and participation? Yes. I believe an increase in voter turnout will occur naturally through effective communication and a focused Voter Outreach program initiated by the Supervisor of Elections, but ultimately the turnout for any election is driven by candidates, media and public interest in the races and issues on the ballot.
As a voter, am a registered Republican and I am proud to vote in every election. As Supervisor of Elections, I see the boundary very clearly and I am not a member of any political group or organization. I actively choose not to join any political organization because I believe it is a conflict for the agency leader who is responsible to conduct the election to be personally involved with an organization whose purpose is to influence the results of that election. The Florida Constitution makes the Supervisor of Elections a partisan office. I don’t believe Flagler County should change the entire structure of our government, which would be necessary to accommodate the change, but I would certainly be in favor of the SOE office being non-partisan.
Jump to other candidates’ answer: Lenhart | Medley | Seay
On Election Day or during Early Voting, poll workers are trained to call law enforcement to report an emergency or any illegal activity. If I saw someone breaking an election law, I would correct them immediately and report the incident just as any other poll worker or employee has been trained to do using an Incident Report for anything which violates the Election Law. If I received a report of illegal activity at a polling site, I would personally visit the site as quickly as possible and have poll workers document the event. I would call law enforcement, if necessary.
Jump to other candidates’ answer: Lenhart | Medley | Seay
In one word: Integrity. I have worked tirelessly to rebuild public confidence in the process and restore broken relationships with other agencies, including the Board of County Commissioners. In October 2015, I returned over $50,000 from the inherited 2014-2015 fiscal year budget to the Board of County Commissioners and during the past few budget meetings, there was no controversy. I have presented two budgets to the BOCC and presented items for their consideration on several occasions and there was again, no controversy. In February 2016, I presented the needs of the Elections Office concerning our current voting system and the negotiations I had been working with the Department of State to receive Federal grant funding to offset our cost to purchase. No controversy. The voting system purchase was approved unanimously in May 2016. I presented a common-sense solution for the way we process and receive campaign finance reports, a shift from paper copies to electronic filing by a four-digit PIN number. No controversy. The Board of County Commissioners loved the idea and approved the resolution unanimously. I have analyzed our current budget and presented, for the first time in Flagler County, a budget book which details the expenditures and provides justifications for budget expenditures needed during the next fiscal year. This document is available for the public and BOCC on the Elections Office website. I make myself available to the Board of County Commissioners, engage them in respectful conversations concerning a need or request and offer reasonable solutions in order to provide the best service for voters. The Canvassing Board meetings have been productive and without dispute or disagreement. I have no agenda and don’t take things personally, even when we disagree. We are serving the same public, and as public servants, I expect to be working together. I expect professional courtesy from each member of the Board because I always offer the same courtesy.
There are so many “firsts” in Flagler County happening in your Elections Office. When I was appointed, I completely reorganized the office with a focus on budget reduction, a consistent filing system, low-cost updates to current technology and staff training with a focus on superior customer service. I have started partnerships between the Elections Office and non-profit organizations with the Adopt-A-Precinct program to staff precincts and engage the community in Flagler County. I have demonstrated a commitment to building relationships between local government agencies by consolidating services and saving taxpayer dollars for the delivery of election equipment and poll worker training facilities. Instead of reacting to the needs of voters, I have implemented a proactive, Voter-Focused Education Program to raise awareness of the voting process and encourage citizen participation by taking the Elections Office into the community through voter registration drives at local events. I developed a volunteer program for trained poll workers to serve in the Voter Education Program alongside Elections Staff as a tax-savings for staff overtime after hours and on weekends. We will receive over $147,000 in Federal grants towards the purchase of a new voting system, meeting the state mandate to upgrade by the year 2020. Ballot on Demand technology is saving the county money during every election and we are providing accurate ballots to each voter during early voting.
There has been amazing progress that seemed impossible a few years ago. The Elections Office is a completely different place now. Many people have commented that the atmosphere in the office even feels different when they visit. It has been my joy and a privilege to serve in this capacity to make the Elections Office a better place for the voters of Flagler County. I am seeking election to a full-term because I believe Flagler County voters deserve to have a Supervisor of Elections who puts their needs first. I have a clear vision for the future of the Elections Office and the foundation has been laid to accomplish much more in the coming years.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.
On July 10, FlaglerLive received an email from Pamela Andrews, a former poll worker, who was asked by Kimble Medley–one of Lenhart’s opponents–to share with us her experience as a poll worker in relation to a specific incident of wrong ballots being handed out at the St. Johns Precinct earlier this year, during the Presidential Preference Primary. You can read Andrews’s email here. Though the matter was addressed and put to rest the night of the election by the Canvassing Board, with a statement by Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, who chaired the board, it prompted this additional follow-up question to Lenhart, and her response:
A former poll worker at the St. Johns precinct in the presidential preference primary earlier this year alleges that you fired her after she challenged one of your “runners,” who attempted to remove ballots voters had already cast from the ballot box before the polls closed, but after errors had been discovered: the same poll workers acknowledged handing out the wrong ballots to what the canvassing board would later determine to have been some 30 voters. But she claims you were “grossly negligent” with the alleged directive to remove ballots from the ballot box, and she suggested you said the canvassing board should not be informed. Please address those claims.
Voters were receiving the incorrect ballot at Precinct 3 during the Presidential Preference Primary election because the ballots were not verified and properly issued to workers by the Clerk at the precinct. We found out on Election Day because a voter called the Elections Office and stated that he received the city ballot at the precinct but knew he did not live within city limits. Elections Staff immediately contacted the precinct, sent an Election Worker (also known as a runner), and once I received the information, I immediately visited the precinct to assess the situation. On my way there, I directed Elections Staff to tell the runner to begin reconciling the ballots. When I arrived, the Clerk was taking a break outside. I asked her to explain the events of the day as I made sure the appropriate ballots were being issued at the inspector’s table. The runner was already at the polling place and I directed her to continue the ballot reconciliation of the ballots which were remaining. I did not issue a directive to the runner to remove ballots from the ballot box, only to take into account the total of ballots cast on the tabulator to fully reconcile. There was miscommunication concerning this procedure and Elections Staff called me back to confirm the reconciliation while I was still driving to the precinct. I explained there was no need to count the ballots in the ballot box at the Precinct, only a count of each of the styles remaining. The runner did remove the ballots while I was en route and the ballots were immediately returned after the procedure was clarified. It is not a criminal act or even negligent for Elections Staff to remove ballots from a ballot box, if necessary, during the course of an election. In this case, the tabulator was functioning properly and the count of ballots cast was available for the reconciliation. I returned to the office and immediately informed the Canvassing Board of the situation during our meeting. When the polls were closed, the ballots were transported back the to the Elections Office by the runner and another poll worker at the precinct, escorted by a Sheriff’s Deputy. The ballots were manually counted by the Canvassing Board on Election Night and a full accounting was made of every ballot issued and cast by style. The Canvassing Board made a presentation of facts to the media and to the Bunnell City Commissioner candidates who were all present for the meeting. It was determined that the results of the election would not have been changed even by the ballots mis-issued.
I’ve been asked the logical question, “Aren’t the poll workers trained to handle ballots?” Absolutely. Poll worker training was completely revamped and expanded to include hands-on training for each piece of equipment to provide cross-training inside the polling place. Training also included each ballot style for the Presidential Preference Primary. Every single poll worker touched a training version of the five ballot styles, especially made to introduce them to the types of ballots they would be issuing on Election Day. That’s not the issue. Let’s review the critical failure at this precinct. The poll workers issuing ballots never received all of the ballot styles because the Clerk did not follow her checklist and procedures for the opening of the polls. It was later reported to us that more than one voter asked the Clerk directly about the city ballot and they were told that it didn’t matter what ballot you received. Since this incident, there will be an additional worker to issue ballots at each split precinct to ensure the correct ballots are issued by style.
Although the poll worker admitted to making this critical error which was confirmed by the other workers in the precinct, she was very angry when I told her she would not be working another election. She threatened to call the Governor, to call Nate McLaughlin, to call the Judge. I encouraged her to contact anyone whom she felt it necessary to contact. Now this poll worker has contacted my opponent and/or FlaglerLive to make this a political issue, when it was resolved by the Canvassing Board almost four months ago.
As Supervisor of Elections, I take full responsibility for what happens in polling places throughout the county. I have worked very hard in this capacity to restore integrity and public trust in the process by promoting transparency. At no time did I ever try to dissuade the poll worker from contacting anyone, nor did I attempt to conceal events which took place. The entire incident has been thoroughly documented by the Canvassing Board, reported to the media and candidates on election night and reported to the Department of State, Division of Elections.
I do not believe that any of the poll workers involved willfully issued wrong ballots to voters. I understand that working on Election Day is stressful and I try to equip our poll workers with everything they need for a successful election. I also know that we do not live in a perfect world, mistakes will happen. The Supervisor of Elections must expect the worst, try to predict the future and have a plan. It is my job to ensure elections are conducted fairly and accurately. This incident is now forever etched into to my list of worst expectations. I must rely on poll workers understanding their duties at the polling place and performing their job as required. Poll workers must also be held accountable for their actions. The Precinct Clerk is responsible for verifying the number of ballots and variations of ballot styles received are correct for their location. Any poll worker who fails to verify the ballots and ballot styles and fails to properly issue ballots to voters as they are checked in at the polling place cannot continue to work in Flagler County.
Resume reading the interview at Question 3.
As I read through the recent FlaglerLive Supervisor of Elections candidates’ interviews, I was deeply bothered by what is best described as personal attacks and the insinuation that I would be involved with any unethical behavior. For that reason, I wanted to take a moment to provide the truth because I believe that is what we as voters are always entitled to receive from public officials.
The other candidates made reference to what they call a “bonus check” for monies paid to me in 2010. I have never received (nor would I ever take) any money I did not earn, and I find it extremely offensive to try and insinuate anything to the contrary. The truth is that the previous SOE withheld pay from employees during her first budget because she was fearful that she wouldn’t have enough to pay us and conduct the 2009 Special Elections and the 2010 Primary Election. No employees refused the check. We were all underpaid for the entire year. I do not believe any employee was satisfied with being underpaid and having their pay held ransom for months. As the Board of County Commissioners concluded back in 2011, this check was a “retroactive pay raise.” The difference in pay was paid at the end of the fiscal year. Is this the way we should operate any office or government agency? Absolutely not, and it is not the way I operate your Elections Office today. It’s not fair to the employees and it’s simply not the correct way to handle a budget as a steward of your tax dollars.
As Supervisor of Elections, I am responsible to pay employees an hourly rate based upon hours worked. No employee of the Elections Office has been or will be paid retroactively. I have a solid understanding of the required expenditures for both the administrative and elections budget. I conducted two county-wide special elections within a few months of my appointment and Flagler County received a full reimbursement from the Department of State for the related expenses. Two special elections and no controversy… it can be done! I returned over $50,000 to the BOCC from the inherited 2014-2015 fiscal year budget and have budgeted appropriately for the current and upcoming fiscal years. Any remaining funds will always be reverted back to the Board.
I agree that the reputation of our Elections Office had been damaged. Damage that I believe was caused in large part by behavior that included personal attacks, the twisting of facts and knowingly attempting to mislead the general public. It has been priority from day one to work tirelessly to repair the relationships with the community to earn back the trust we are all entitled to in the election process. I have not and will not make any personal attacks against either of my opponents. I believe we as voters deserve, and need, a Supervisor of Elections who does not play the political game. I will not participate in the behavior we saw in the past from others or some of the behavior we have seen in this very election. I firmly believe Flagler County deserves better.
I can tell you that the Elections Office team is very happy to be free of the drama and perceptions of the past several years. As an employee during that time, I know first-hand how difficult it was. I worked in that environment for over six years. Many have asked why I did not quit. Yes, the thought had crossed my mind like anyone who has worked in difficult workplaces. I did not quit because I feel a commitment to the community to do the best job I can for you, the voters of Flagler County. The right to vote is one of our most precious rights as American citizens and since the day I was hired in the Elections Office, I knew this would be the most important work I’ve ever done. There are many people who have worked with me for years and have been witness to the transformation, and it is encouraging every day to see a team that is visibly proud of what they do for you once again as they should be. I am honored to have the support of Supervisors of Elections from our neighboring counties, all of whom have been watching Flagler County with interest and have also seen the transformation of your Elections Office. I am proud to say that the office has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. This new foundation is primed and ready for the coming years. I have used my experience and knowledge of the Elections Office and have worked tirelessly to develop this atmosphere for positive change towards improvement. We may see record-breaking turnout during the General Election in November, I am expecting near 80% turnout. Your Election Team is now ready for the challenge.
I strive to be the best person I can for my family and my community. I try to live my life as the best possible example for my children. I have always felt honored to be a part of our Elections Office serving you. I am running for office because I believe am the most qualified person for the job, to perform this most essential function of local government. I do not want to see us move backwards, instead we should always be moving forward. I want to continue the path forward to continue to create and have an Elections Office we can trust and be proud of as a community.