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Hillsborough commissioner wants $200K back from county elections office

Josh Wostal says a drop in active registered voters means elections supervisor Craig Latimer’s budget should get cut.
 
Hillsborough County Commissioner Josh Wostal. Times (2023)
Hillsborough County Commissioner Josh Wostal. Times (2023) [ Times ]
Published March 5

Hillsborough County Commissioner Josh Wostal is asking fellow board members to cut elections supervisor Craig Latimer’s already approved 2024 budget by $200,000.

The reason: what Wostal called “a historic unexpected 11.5% drop in active registered voters” for 2024.

Wostal said he used U.S. Postal Service rates to calculate that the drop in those voters would mean approximately $200,000 of “saved postage, printing and packaging costs” for mailed election materials. The county should take that back from Latimer’s funding, he said.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. IVY CEBALLO | Times (2022)
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. IVY CEBALLO | Times (2022)

Latimer said Monday he will be at Wednesday’s commission meeting when Wostal’s proposal is scheduled to be heard and declined further comment.

Latimer’s 2024 budget is approximately $18 million.

In a February letter to the elections supervisor, Wostal asked how many times ballots and mailers were sent “to these inactive/ghost registrations.” Latimer wrote back that the voters are “real people (not ghosts) who don’t always update their voter information on a regular basis.”

Latimer wrote that the decrease has to do with new law on how voters lists are maintained. Approximately 100,000 voters were moved to inactive status because they didn’t vote in the 2020 general election or any election since, hadn’t communicated with the elections office and did not respond to a final notice for address confirmation. They were not removed from the voter roll and are “eligible, registered, inactive voters,” Latimer wrote.

He said in a presidential election year, the number of active voters is likely to go up significantly.

He told Wostal he appreciated the inquiry: “In today’s contentious atmosphere, we need to work together to ensure that our community is not misguided by the rampant election mis-, dis- and mal-information that continues to spread.”

Wostal said Monday he found it “kind of indefensible that he doesn’t agree there should be a reduction.” He wants the $200,000 to instead be used for an unfunded capital project on 43rd Street between Hanna and Sligh avenues.

“We have critical public safety elements that have been neglected for years and every minute counts,” he wrote in his request for Wednesday’s discussion.

Wostal was elected in 2022 as part of the wave of new commissioners who flipped the board majority to Republican. He has moved to eliminate the county’s indigent health care tax — a push that went to Tallahassee but hit a dead end — and proposed stricter rules for county funding of nonprofits.

Elected in 2012 and unopposed in 2016 and 2020, Latimer, a Democrat, faces an election challenge this year by Republican political newcomer and elections integrity skeptic Billy Christensen, a Seffner real estate agent.

Hillsborough’s constitutional officers including Latimer often give unspent money from their budgets back to the county. Last year, Latimer returned approximately $2 million.

“I don’t need to wait nine months to get back millions when we have all of these needs,” said Wostal. “We have some safety and mobility enhancements we can do today.”