Hernando County elections office should embrace technology

Published Sept. 5, 2012

The recent dust-up in the race for Hernando supervisor of elections is indicative of a public office that has yet to fully embrace digital technology. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Logan Neil reported, Republican candidate Shirley Anderson visited a precinct during the Aug. 14 primary and was accused of unknowingly violating state election law by going inside and asking a poll deputy about voter turnout. Under state law, candidates and their political signs must be at least 100 feet from a polling place and they can enter only to cast their own ballots or assist someone in their care to do likewise.

Anderson blamed a poll worker, who has since been fired, for authorizing her visit inside Precinct 40 at Spring Hill United Church of Christ on Mariner Boulevard. Anderson, who won the Republican primary that day, now is running against Democrat Elizabeth Townsend, the current operations director for retiring Elections Supervisor Annie Williams. Anderson suggested the episode resulted from inadequate training of the poll worker.

More to the point, no candidate, campaign volunteer or member of the public should have to make an in-person visit to a polling place to gauge election day turnout. That information should be readily available on the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office website, but is not.

In neighboring Pasco County, the Supervisor of Elections Office posts precinct-by-precinct turn-out data on an hourly basis. It shows the tally of early voters, plus the number of absentee ballots and in-person voters, broken down by party affiliation, each election day. The system has been in place since 2008 and allows candidates, the media and others to monitor voter turn-out from any computer or smart phone with Internet access. Had Williams' office been as proactive there would have been no need for Anderson to stop by in person.

Cost should not be a factor. Pasco Elections Supervisor Brian Corley said the computer program to post the hourly updates was devised by in-house personnel at no additional expense to the public beyond staff time.

Townsend said Wednesday the office now hopes to have timely online reports available to the public for the general election. That's good because the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office should emulate Corley's operation to improve transparency.

No matter who wins the Nov. 6 contest between Anderson and Townsend, the next Hernando supervisor of elections should continue to upgrade the office's public information effort and make full use of technology to provide timely and accurate information to the voting public.