Incumbent Dent crushes Thaxton

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent speaks to the audience during a campaign debate with Jon Thaxton on July 9 at Selby Library. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent handily defeated Republican challenger Jon Thaxton in Tuesday’s primary, winning 75 percent of the vote after a brief, but hotly debated campaign.

Only 28,415 Sarasota County Republicans (24 percent of the party) voted in the election, and overall turnout for the primary was abysmal, with just 16 percent of county residents casting a vote.

Thaxton, a 12-year county commissioner who is being term-limited out, waged an aggressive campaign. During a series of July debates, Thaxton didn’t shy away from bringing up Dent’s controversial record, most notably how she handled the 2006 election, when the county’s voting machines recorded a massive undervote in the tight Vern Buchanan/Christine Jennings race. Before election day, Dent’s office was warned by the company that made the county’s touchscreen voting machines that the devices might not function correctly. She was advised to put up posters alerting voters to the potential for error, but chose not to.

“We need to end the litigation and conflicts and mishaps that seem to be plaguing this office,” Thaxton argued in July, accusing Dent of peddling “misinformation,” creating “a lack of transparency” and “blaming others for things that go wrong.”

“I’m frankly ready to return to a time when it’s the candidates and issues in the headlines,” Thaxton said.

Dent’s record didn’t bother the local media any. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board endorsed her, calling her “highly experienced,” and the paper called Thaxton’s critical stance an example of “mud-slinging.” The hard-right Observer editorial page, meanwhile, called Dent’s mistakes “minor shortcomings.”

County Republicans were clearly unruffled by the various goofs and fiascos, as well, and decided to give Dent another four years. She faces no opposition in November: a token write-in candidate registered in the race only to close the vote to non-Republicans.