FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

Nassau County Supervisor of Elections Candidates take part in Fernandina Observer’s Q & A

July 2020

Editor’s Note:  For the 9th straight year, the Fernandina Observer is offering candidates the opportunity to answer questions posed by our senior staff.  The goal is to inform and educate the voters of Nassau County.  We have disabled comments on this post.

Nassau County Supervisor of Elections candidates. (L-R) Janet H. Adkins, Stan Bethea, and Justin Taylor.

To read the press releases posted when the candidates’ announced their candidacy, click on the names below.

Janet H. Adkins

Stan Bethea

Justin Taylor

What will you do to improve voter turnout?

Janet H. Adkins

Nassau County voters have a tremendous history of turning out for elections. Our level of participation in local elections has been one of the top performing counties for many years.   

I have gained experience in the elections process, both as a candidate, as a member of the Republican State Committee and through my service as the elected  4th Congressional Caucus Chair on the RPOF Board.  The lens through which you are engaged in elections from the state party perspective,  while partisan, allows you to learn a great deal about voter registration, the limitations on federal and state elections relative to campaign finance laws and voter turnout.

Voter turnout is driven by many factors that include the dynamics of the races on the ballot, the choices that voters have available, the information that voters have access to about the candidates and the issues, whether the issues and candidates impact the lives of the voters in any particular way and to what extent there is a perception among voters that things have gotten off track.

Making the voting experience accessible, safe and secure will be my focus and we can do that by modernizing how we communicate with voters about important dates in the electoral calendar.

I will explore using the Nassau County Emergency Alert Notification system to communicate with citizens about important election information.  This is a system that taxpayers are already paying for through the Board of County Commissioners.

We would request access to include notifications regarding early voting dates, locations and hours; vote by mail opportunities; voter registration; and precinct locations.  This text notification would provide real time information to voters, reminding them where their polling locations are and that they are open. 

I would also seek to increase communication with voters via social media, public service announcements and community outreach, in a targeted approach to increase voter confidence and turnout.  Our community is strengthened when voters are informed and engaged in their government.

What will you do to improve voter turnout?

Stan Bethea

As humans, we do what we want to do. Voting is no different. Supervisors of Elections in Florida are required to post public notices in newspapers of general circulation concerning a variety of topics, such as sample ballots, meetings where Vote-By-Mail ballots are processed, and elections dates. Many Florida Supervisors of Elections also mail paper Sample Ballots and/or postcards to voters encouraging them to request Vote-By-Mail ballots. All of this is done in an attempt to increase voter turnout.

Voter turnout is affected by many different things such as weather. In my experience and the opinion of many in the election profession, it is candidates and/or issues on the ballot that drive turnout. It is up to the candidates and those supporting either side of issues to generate support.

Certainly, I will continue to leverage social media and other cost-effective avenues to inform voters of upcoming elections. Ultimately, however, it is up to the voter to decide to vote.

What will you do to improve voter turnout?

Justin Taylor

Creating awareness through partnerships will be a key initiative to help increase voter turnout. I will work with community organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and other civic groups to establish programs that raise awareness and builds excitement. In addition, I will work to establish educational programs within our libraries, schools, and other youth organizations to help educate our younger generation on the importance of the elections process.

For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to facilitate programs with local schools and organizations where we discussed the branches of government, local elections, and coordinated mock elections and meetings. These types of programs are an excellent way to raise voter awareness and ultimately improve turnout.

Since all candidates for Supervisor of Elections are Republican, how can you reassure Nassau voters that under your leadership, county elections will be conducted without regard to party affiliation?  –

Janet H. Adkins

During my past public service in the Florida House of Representatives and on the School Board, constituent services was always a focus of my service.  I would host summits, community meetings, forums and invite speakers to discuss issues important to groups and citizens I served.

I believe that public officials are public servants and are hired to serve the citizens.  They should be good problem solvers and have a demonstrated track record of taking on complex problems in the community and finding solutions that work for all sides.

Examples of my leadership style that involved working with people from both sides of the aisle when Gov Rick Scott was opposed to funding the St John’s River Ferry.  There was a need to keep this important transportation link open.  We were able to build a coalition and find a path forward.   Today the St John’s Ferry continues to operate.

Another example was saving the docks for property owners at Lofton Creek.  The members of the Audubon Association were opposed and wanted the docks removed, Gov Charlie Crist did not want to sign the local bill that I crafted with local stakeholders.  In the end we found a way to balance the needs of all concerned and saved the property owners’ docks.

Throughout my public service, I have worked to build consensus and find solutions to the challenges that face Nassau County while standing firm on my principles.  I believe in the rule of law and adherence to the laws and rules set forth by our legislature.

My mom always told me, “Actions speak louder than words.  It is important what you do.”  So, I ask you to look at what I have done.

As Chair of the K12 subcommittee I would meet with each member of my committee and work with Democrats on items where we could find common ground, we learned to work with one another. I worked with Democratic co-sponsor to outlaw synthetic marijuana or K2.

I worked with Democratic Party leaders to recognize local activist Verna Bell by renaming a portion of 8th Street in Fernandina Beach; introduced legislation to rename a portion of US Highway 1 for former Principal Emmett Coakley from Callahan;  and introduced and passed house memorial bills to recognize Harriett  Ross Tubman for her work on the underground railroad and local Heisman Trophy Winner Derrick Henry.

I am honored to have the support of former Fernandina Beach Mayor Ronnie Sapp in this campaign. We have known and respected each other for many years, and I am honored to have his trust as I seek this important position.

Since all candidates for Supervisor of Elections are Republican, how can you reassure Nassau voters that under your leadership, county elections will be conducted without regard to party affiliation?

Stan Bethea

I will continue to do what I have done in my entire voting administration career. For the past 14 years, I have worked in the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office delivering successful, fair, and accurate elections. Yes, I am a Republican. When I perform my election duties as an election professional now and in the future, however, I will continue to do so without regard to party affiliation or any other voter demographic.

My job is to convey the choice and the voice of the voters.

 

 

Since all candidates for Supervisor of Elections are Republican, how can you reassure Nassau voters that under your leadership, county elections will be conducted without regard to party affiliation?

Justin Taylor

 

One of our greatest rights is our freedom to elect our leaders. It’s a process that should always remain fair, regardless of political affiliation. My commitment is to ensure that all registered voters will have the same opportunity to easily cast their ballot in an accessible manner.

 

 

What is your position on expanding the use of mail ballots?

Florida statute 101.62 allows any registered voter to request a vote by mail (absentee) ballot without providing any reason for the request.

For the last four general elections (2012 to 2018), vote by mail ballots accounted for 22% to 26% of the total votes cast.  Historically most Nassau County voters (45%) would show up on election day.  This changed in 2016 when the early vote accounted for 50% of votes cast and only 29% voted on election day.

In 2018, voters again demonstrated their preference for early voting (39%); while election day accounted for 36% of the vote. While vote by mail demand has historically remained constant and Nassau County voters have historically demonstrated a preference for early voting and election day voting, COVID-19 is creating a new normal for our Elections Office.

As of July 10, over 14,000 voters have requested vote by mail ballots.  I believe that having multiple means by which voters can exercise their right to vote is good for America and for Nassau County.

I do not support mailing ballots to everyone listed on the voter rolls (regardless of whether it was requested) as I believe this will create delays in both early voting and Election Day voting.  These delays would result from the need to ensure that vote by mail ballots have not already been counted and thereby allowing voters to cast multiple votes.

For ballot security reasons, it is important that a voter is expecting the delivery of their ballot.  If a ballot is delivered to an unsecured mailbox when it is not expected, it introduces an opportunity for election fraud to occur.

I believe that the new normal of COVID-19 and the increase in vote by mail ballots will have the following impacts:

  • Workload Increase – Nassau SOE can expect an increase in the workload as more voters decide to request a vote-by-mail ballot. This will create a demand for employees, postage, processing and handling of these ballots and verification of the signatures.
  • Signature Cards – There will be a greater need to update the signature cards to ensure that the signatures accurately reflect those on the vote-by-mail ballots. This is particularly important for the elderly whose signatures change with aging.
  • Ballot Security – The expanded use of vote-by-mail will require greater storage management and installation of security cameras to help ensure the safety and handling of the ballots prior to tabulation.
  • Infection Control – it has been reported that some strains of Coronavirus can live for up to five days on an envelope. It will be important to ensure that election workers that are assigned to handling the large number of ballots are kept safe and prevent infection threats. (https://www.webmd.com/lung/howlongcovid19livesonsurfaces). I would ensure that appropriate procedures for handling these ballots are put into place prior to allowing these ballots to be handled or processed.

What is your position on expanding the use of mail ballots?

Stan Bethea

I have worked in elections administration for the past 14 years, managing 43 elections. During this time, the use of both Early Voting sites and Vote-By-Mail ballots has increased. Voting opportunities that work well for voters should be used. Vote-By-Mail ballots are an excellent opportunity for voters to study their ballots, research candidates and issues from the comfort of their homes, and make the most informed choices possible.

 

 

 

What is your position on expanding the use of mail ballots?

Justin Taylor

I believe voters should have the right to vote by one of the three ways available; Vote by Mail, Early Voting, and Election Day. What may work for one individual may not work for another.

All voters have the right to request a vote by mail ballot. Before returning their ballot, they must sign the ballot and their signature must match the signature they have on file with the Supervisor of Elections office. This process allows legally registered voters the opportunity to vote at their convenience in a secure manner.

 

 

What will you do to improve voter confidence in Florida Elections?

Janet H Adkins

I will improve voter confidence in Florida Elections by working to ensure that all voters have a positive experience when interacting with the Nassau County Supervisor of Elections office and poll workers.   The research has indicated that voters have greater confidence when they do not have to wait extended periods to cast their votes, when they encounter polling location officials who are knowledgeable and when they vote in person rather than by mail.[1]

To improve voter confidence, we need to ensure that poll workers have high levels of training and that staff from the SOE office are readily available to answer questions and resolve them immediately.

I would ensure that adequate amount of resources is allocated to polling locations, that voting equipment is properly tested and working, and that poll workers are trained so that voters have a positive experience while voting at both early voting sites and election day voting sites.  I would encourage vote-by mail electors to track their ballots, know when their ballots have been received and when they have been counted.

IT Security is something that must be a priority as external threats are ever changing.  The reality is that oversight and close scrutiny of IT systems will be a constant reality and having a working knowledge of software development, programming and the digital infrastructure will be a benefit to the new SOE in being able to quickly understand and evaluate these risks.

My diverse experience has provided me with significant insight to the details behind elections, such as how election mail moves.  Considering the large vote by mail response, it will be important to coordinate with the local Postal Officials to ensure that vote-by mail ballots are not delayed going out to voters or in being returned to the Elections Office.

The impact of COVID-19 will require that we also have strong infection control procedures in place to ensure social distancing in and around the polling location.

For voters that decide to early vote and to vote on election day we would ensure that infection control procedures include provisions for social distancing, personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.  We would ensure all voting locations are disinfected through the day to help control the risk of infection.

[1] https://electionlab.mit.edu/research/voterconfidence

What will you do to improve voter confidence in Florida elections?

Stan Bethea

 

I would invite all voters to attend the public opportunities where they can watch the voting process at work. In addition, I would encourage voters to attend training to become poll workers during Early Voting and/or on Election Day.

I would also remind everyone that all Florida voters make their choices on paper ballots. The paper ballots can be reviewed for accuracy and to see that the vote totals reported really do reflect the choices made by voters.

 

 

What will you do to improve voter confidence in Florida elections?

Justin Taylor

We are fortunate here in Nassau County to have a Supervisor of Elections who has protected voter integrity for almost 20 years. Attention to detail, properly testing the equipment, training the staff, and protecting the ballot all remains critical to our democracy. Vicki Cannon and her staff have worked tirelessly to ensure our process is fair, secure, and accurate and that is why the Nassau County Supervisor of Elections office is one of the best in the state. To capitalize on all of the great things Mrs. Cannon has accomplished, I would offer an open door program and invite the public and media to attend for a mock election so everyone can see how the process works.

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