Elections supervisor should earn the title first

How about from here on out we hold the election for supervisor of elections the day after the election?

Assuming there is an actual election.

You know, with results and all.

That way we wouldn't risk re-electing an elections supervisor who couldn't pull off an actual election.

If that sounds like Jabberwocky to you, welcome to the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office.

Election Day in Hillsborough County — make that Election-Day-into-night-into-the-next-morning — was what you could safely call a meltdown for Supervisor Buddy Johnson's office.

You want problems? Hundreds of voters were given only one page of a two-page ballot. Polling places were inadequately equipped. Hillsborough lagged behind other counties in counting votes but finished ahead in generating complaints.

Finally, everything shut down with tens of thousands of votes that would go without a final count for days.

Maybe you could chalk this up purely to technical difficulties, to elections equipment that could not handle the volume.

Maybe, if there weren't so much history.

There's how Buddy Johnson has run an office that has been as forthcoming and transparent and responsive to the public as your average cinder block wall.

There was hush money paid to an exiting employee.

Polling places were moved without adequate notice to voters.

Then there were Johnson's own delinquent property taxes, and for comic relief, the cows that got him an agricultural tax break.

And we were surprised things tanked on Tuesday?

Lines were long at the University of South Florida, which anyone who was paying the remotest bit of attention to the presidential election might have anticipated. Students waited for hours, the last one casting a ballot after a nation had already learned Barack Obama was in.

So with all of that, how do you make sense of the bizarre moment when Johnson proclaimed to reporters it had been "a beautiful day for Hills­borough County," when no one else was seeing much to be sunny about?

Or later, when he told a TV cameraman asking for on-the-record information about what was happening, "Why don't you say that to my face?"

Johnson's own bid to keep his seat was one of the races that hung in the balance while they tallied the votes this week, which is either irony or a fitting twist.

Amazingly, he was not immediately and roundly trounced and shown the door by voters, the slow vote count showing him running neck-and-neck with challenger Phyllis Busansky for a time. Maybe all those tax-funded voter education materials featuring his face helped convince them he really was their Buddy.

What did and didn't happen in Hillsborough County on Election Day wasn't mere inconvenience, or denying newly electeds their hard-won victory parties.

This was about making sure every person who voted could be confident it counted.

It was about someone elected to do one specific and critical job: count the vote and get it right.

Thursday night, as the tallies kept coming, Johnson conceded the election and congratulated Busansky.

And many happy returns.

Elections supervisor should earn the title first 11/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 8:32pm]

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