Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections preparing for voter turnout as high as 80% in 2020

Ron Turner also discusses his office’s election security measures in presentation to County Commission

This slide provides details about the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

Given the fact that 67% of Sarasota County voters participated in the November 2018 General Election, Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner said this week he expects the turnout for the 2020 Presidential Election to be as high as 80% or even greater.

Some precincts, especially in Venice, he told the County Commission on June 19, most likely will have turnout at the 90% level.

“Of the large counties in Florida,” he said — those with registered voters numbering 250,000 or greater — “we had the second highest turnout” in 2018.

The February 2018 Special Election for the Florida House District 72 seat, won by Democrat Margaret Good of Siesta Key, had “the second highest turnout in a special election in the state in modern Florida history,” Turner noted. (According to Ballotpedia, 44,159 ballots were cast in that race.)

Additionally, Turner pointed out, his staff mailed out more than 90,000 vote-by-mail ballots for the 2018 General Election. That figure could rise to 100,000 next year, he said.

One challenge, Turner noted, is the fact that more of the vote-by-mail ballots are returned on Election Day than any other day. “You’re inundated at the last couple of hours with thousands of ballots …” He added, “It’s a major effort” to process them, he said, including the need to verify that each voter’s signature matches the signature on record with his office.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner. Image from www.sarasotavotes.com

Another part of the election process for which he and his staff are preparing, he continued, is early voting in 2020. In 2016, Turner noted, that was “the most popular method” in Sarasota County.

He added that he is looking at expanding the early voting period in both North County and South County in 2020, “to accommodate the large number of people …”

“We have almost 320,000 voters,” Turner told the commissioners. Almost 50,000 of them registered after the 2012 General Election, he added.

Turner was appearing before the commissioners on June 19 to present his proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that one “hot topic” has been election security.

“We run paper ballots,” he pointed out. “That’s very important because our voting system in the county is not on the internet. So, from a hacking perspective, that’s important to know.”

He stressed that the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office uses a “closed network system.”

“We can always go back to the paper,” he continued, noting that the ballots are audited. Further, Turner said, after a federal election, his office is required to store the ballots for 22 months.

In response to comments from Commissioner Christian Ziegler, Turner said, “We were not hacked. I get that question.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler makes a comment during the June 19 budget workshop. Rachel Hackney photo

Turner also explained that he has begun serving as the treasurer of the state association of supervisors of election. In that capacity, he added, he is “trying to take those opportunities to be in the most important conversations about election security.”

“We were designated by President Obama and by the Trump Administration as critical infrastructure,” Turner noted, “as a sector that the United States cannot do without. … It’s the foundation of everything that we operate under as elected officials …”

In response to another question from Ziegler, Turner explained that his office used the majority of state grant funds allocated in 2017 for election security. Another “pot of money” is being allocated, he continued, with the governor and the Florida secretary of state “partnering with the counties … with the most critical needs.” He and his staff, Turner added, would use all the state funds provided for his office.

As vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Ziegler said he has heard complaints about problems in other counties, but “Our elections are run very smoothly, locally.” Turner, he added, “is trusted by both Republicans and Democrats.”

Other considerations for 2020 budget

As for other factors related to his anticipated revenue and expenses for FY20, Turner pointed out that his budget “is kind of a cyclical [one].” Unlike some departments, he continued, his office does not spend “one-twelfth of the money per month.”

Along with the November 2020 Presidential Election, Turner noted, he and his staff will have to be prepared for the March 17, 2020 Presidential Preference Primary and an August 2020 primary.

The date for that August election will be moving back a week, he added, based on a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign. “We’ll be announcing that new date” after the bill becomes law, Turner told the commissioners.

Additionally, as a result of a federal court order, Turner said, Sarasota County is one of 32 Florida counties that must provide election materials in English and Spanish. “That’s not just the ballots. That’s everything.”

The Supervisor of Elections Office in downtown Sarasota is in the Terrace Building. Image courtesy Tax Collector’s Office

Even the “Vote Here” signs, he said, will have to have Spanish-language equivalents. “So that has been factored into [the 32.1% increase in the Supervisor of Elections Office’s FY20 budget],” he said.

Overall, Turner’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $6,775,738, with $6,693,498 coming out of the county’s General Fund, which is made up largely of property tax revenue. (See the related story in this issue.)

“You have great bipartisan volunteers and [poll] watchers,” Commissioner Nancy Detert told him.

Sarasota County has had only nine supervisors of elections in its history, Turner responded, and some of his volunteers have worked for him as well as two of his predecessors.

“We bring on hundreds of temporary staff in an election year,” not counting those who work at the polls, he said.

“Good luck with the next election,” Detert told him.

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