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Pinellas County Elections Supervisor announces retirement

Deborah Clark will stay on through the presidential preference primary in March, but will retire at the end of that month.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, shown in a 2011 public hearing in Largo.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, shown in a 2011 public hearing in Largo.
Published Feb. 17, 2020
Updated Feb. 17, 2020

Deborah Clark, the longtime supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, announced Monday she will retire in the midst of the busy 2020 election year.

Clark said she’ll retire at the end of March, which means she will oversee that month’s presidential preference primary election on Tuesday the 17th and will be on the canvassing board to certify that election.

But it also means she will not be around for the primary and general elections later this year.

Clark, 71, has served as the elections supervisor for nearly 20 years, having initially been appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2000. Clark has worked in the elections supervisor office for a total of 42 years.

Clark sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announcing her resignation, saying she looks forward to spending more time with her husband and family. Because Clark is retiring less than two years before the end of her term, Jan. 5, 2021, there will be no special election.

She urged DeSantis to consider appointing her chief deputy, Julie Marcus, to complete Clark’s term of office. In the letter, Clark noted that Marcus has 17 years of elections administration experience and is “prepared and ready to manage the complexities and responsibilities of being the Supervisor of Elections for Pinellas County.”

Clark, who makes $163,879 a year, had been the office’s deputy administrator when she was tapped by Bush to take over the unexpired term of her predecessor, Dorothy Ruggles, who died of cancer.

Clark, a Republican, has won five straight countywide elections since that appointment. She had not submitted her name as a candidate for the upcoming 2020 election.

Clark jumped right in to run Pinellas’ election during the contentious 2000 presidential race and has since overseen several technology changes in elections in the past two decades, including the elimination of the county’s punch-card voting machines and new voter registration system.

During her tenure, she came out as an early champion for mail-in ballots, which have only grown in popularity, but has also faced criticism in the past for decisions not to have more locations for early voting.

Related: Pinellas now ground zero in Florida's fight over voting

Clark also caused a stir over voter registration drives in 2016 that were held at Chick-fil-A locations. The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County argued that it was “partisan” to hold the drives at locations of a restaurant chain known for supporting conservative causes.

Marcus said that Clark’s legacy as elections supervisor is “fair and accurate elections and treating people with dignity.”

Marcus, 43, said she hopes to continue that legacy by being appointed to fill the end of Clark’s term.

“Deb has been incredible to me. She’s been my mentor, she’s been a leader. I am blessed and honored that she would recommend me,” Marcus said Monday.

Marcus, a registered Republican, would not say whether she plans to vie for the supervisor of elections job in the November election. She said she was focused on the “critical” 2020 election year.

So far, only one candidate has announced to run in the November election for the supervisor role. Ruqaiyah McGee, a registered Democrat, said she’d heard rumors that Clark may retire and would promote Marcus to replace her. McGee said Clark’s announcement does not change her feelings about wanting to run for election.