Voters have an opportunity to upgrade the performance of the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office when they select a replacement for the retiring Annie D. Williams in the Nov. 6 general election.
Democrat Elizabeth Townsend, the supervisor's director of operations, is seeking to succeed her boss after working for the agency for the past eight years. Republican Shirley Anderson, district director for U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, is making her second run for the post after losing a three-way race four years ago.
Townsend, 39, certainly has the edge in experience having handled community outreach, poll-worker training, upgrading the office website and largely administering the most recent elections, including the recount of a county commission race that initially ended in a tie.
Anderson, 54, is a problem-solver, having interacted daily with congressional constituents seeking help from federal agencies. She also gained budget and legislative experience as a three-year member of the Hillsborough River Basin Board.
Both promise better voter outreach, an improved digital presence for the elections office, and to review operations of other supervisors' in Florida to emulate their best practices. Unfortunately, each has issues to overcome.
Four days ago, Anderson misled a candidate forum audience about newspapers' support of her general election candidacy. How people behave as candidates is often a preview of how they will conduct themselves as elected officials and Anderson would do well to not let political ambition supersede personal integrity.
Townsend, meanwhile, is part of an office that has trouble providing complete information to the public. For instance, consider the employment status of the precinct worker who allowed Anderson to improperly visit a voting site during the Aug. 14 primary.
Williams, in an Aug. 29 letter to Anderson, said the poll worker had been "relieved of his duties.'' In an interview nearly three weeks later, Townsend said the man was eligible to work during the general election, but at a different precinct. The change came, she said, because the worker provided Williams' a different version of the Aug. 14 events that had led to his dismissal. Townsend declined to comment further, saying she didn't want the episode repeated in the media for public consumption.
It's the supervisors' office's duty is to fully disclose what happened at the polls – not try to avert bad publicity. The public must have faith that its elections are administered competently, impartially and accurately and the Supervisor of Elections Office diminishes its credibility when it provides imprecise information.
Unfortunately, this is not the exclusive instance of incomplete or inaccurate information coming from that office. On the night of the Aug. 14 primary, the office issued multiple emails labeled as final and unofficial results that reported changing vote totals for commission candidates. Earlier in the campaign, Williams gave the wrong election date to Hernando County School Board candidate William Kingeter who spent most of the summer believing his contest was to be decided in November rather than August.
It's a repetitive pattern of gaffes that calls into question the competency of the organization. The ultimate accountability rests with Williams, but Townsend, as the number two person in the office, must also shoulder responsibility.
It is time for new leadership at the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office and voters should give Anderson the opportunity to be that agent of change. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Republican Shirley Anderson for supervisor of elections in Hernando County.