Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Hernando elections chief hopefuls focus on integrity, efficiency

To some, the Supervisor of Elections Office is necessary, but largely innocuous. But the two candidates looking to fill the position being vacated by retiring elections supervisor Annie Williams would strongly disagree.

Although Republican Shirley Anderson and Democrat Elizabeth Townsend share the belief that the services provided by elections office are essential to the democratic process, and that the office should be run efficiently and with integrity, the two differ on how best to do the job.

Realizing the demand for tighter fiscal constraints, Anderson, 54, has focused much her campaign message around the need to make less do more.

If elected, Anderson says, she plans to conduct a thorough review of the office and its staffing requirements to see where it would be possible to shave expenses. Her other ideas include better utilization of technology, using county employees from other departments during busy times and starting an electronic newsletter to send timely communications directly to voters.

Currently the district director for U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, Anderson isn't a stranger to politics. In her unsuccessful run for the elections office in 2008, she claimed that her opponent made mistakes that diminished voter confidence.

This year, Anderson was quick to pounce on another gaffe by Williams when the elections supervisor failed to provide correct information to School Board candidates about when their election would occur.

"Experience at doing things improperly is not the experience that I would like to see carried forward," Anderson noted in a news release following the incident.

Townsend, 39, has worked in the elections office for eight years — two of them as operations director. She touts her leadership, experience in administering 14 elections and extensive knowledge of the office's inner workings as attributes that make her the person best capable of hitting the ground running after the election.

Unlike her opponent, Townsend is a political newcomer. While she acknowledges that the office has had its share of recent embarrassments, she was quick, when asked, to distance herself from them.

"My responsibilities obviously encompass things that are part of that office, (and) it would be impossible to separate the two," Townsend wrote in an email last week. "I operate and carry out my responsibilities within the framework that the supervisor of elections sets. She runs the office."

Like her opponent, Townsend expresses a desire to run the office in a fiscally frugal manner. If elected, she promises to curb spending as much as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the electoral process. In addition, she says she would further advance the office's use of technology and work toward increasing voter turnout through greater visibility in the community.

Although marked by few contentious issues involving overall operations of the office, the race has notably been marked by some sparks.

In August, Anderson was admonished by the elections supervisor's office for entering a polling place during the primary election and speaking with a poll worker, an action prohibited by state election statutes. Williams said records showed that Anderson, who won the Republican primary, had voted earlier in the month and had no business being inside the precinct.

Days later, Anderson retorted with a complaint of her own, claiming photos showed that Townsend's campaign-decorated vehicle had been parked within 100 feet of the county's Forest Oaks elections office on a day when early voting was taking place.

Williams said she investigated the incident with the state elections office, but found no election law had been violated. Townsend, she said, "was not a candidate on any of the primary election ballots and there was no intent to solicit votes."

The Republican Party disagreed with Williams' finding.

Anderson, who has deep Republican ties in the county, and whose volunteer campaign staff includes the father of Republican Party chairman Blaise Ingoglia, has so far raised more than $33,500 in contributions. Many of her supporters are prominent Republicans and area businesspeople.

Townsend's campaign is more grass roots oriented. Most of the nearly $24,000 she has raised has come in small donations from individual donors. In addition, she has contributed more than $5,000 of her own money.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]

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