Collier elections supervisor ranks No. 3, Lee's says rankings are flawed

A ranking of Florida's election supervisors shows Collier County was ranked third for its speed in reporting the Jan. 31 primary election results and other duties, while Lee County came in fifth.

However, Lee County's elections supervisor maintains a mistake by state officials caused it to lose its ranking of third with 15 other counties.

Collier's score of five and Lee's tally of three was part of a statewide survey that angered elections supervisors, who called it flawed and maintained the ranking requested by Gov. Rick Scott could undermine voter confidence.

No county received a top score of eight, but 13 earned a seven and three received a negative 4, the lowest score — Brevard, Palm Beach, and Seminole counties.

Scores ranged from one point for submitting certain data early to negative 1 for submitting it late, and negative 2 for not submitting data. If counties submitted data on time, they received a zero. For turning in the rankings survey early, counties received an eighth score, "extra credit."

"I think that is a form of manipulation," said Collier County Elections Supervisor Jennifer Edwards, noting that counties that didn't submit data on time could make up for it by earning extra credit. "How dare they rank us that way. We all do our jobs. If you look at Collier County, we did it all on time or early."

" ... The people who live in our community rank us every four years, when they elect us, so how dare they rank us at the director level of the state Division of Elections and governor's office," she added. "That's unprecedented."

Lee County's Supervisor of Elections, Sharon Harrington, was out of the office Friday, but told the News-Press her office received a negative 2 for not turning in part of the survey, when she had sent the information to the state, so she contended the rankings were flawed.

Elections supervisors say they were not told the survey would be used to rank offices and had asked Scott's office not to release the "flawed report" publicly until their "serious concerns" were addressed. It ended up being leaked by at least one top ranked elections supervisor.

They fear the list is a prelude to the Republican governor asserting more control just months before the crucial 2012 elections.

On Wednesday night, all 67 county elections supervisors angrily voiced their criticism during a 90-minute conference call with state Division of Elections Director Gisela Salas, picking apart the survey's flaws, noting that they operate under state mandated deadlines and pointing out most counties submitted elections information early or on time. Salas, who said she understood their difficult demands and deadlines, told them, "You all shine" and agreed to correct any mistakes.

After supervisors demanded a meeting with Scott's administration, they agreed to gather next Wednesday with Salas, members of Scott's administration, Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford, a Republican who is president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, and others.

A day after the call, Stafford sent a letter to Scott, criticizing the survey, calling it "flawed" and contending it didn't reflect how well supervisors do their jobs. He said it could undermine voter confidence and pointed out the governor doesn't have much control over supervisors because they are constitutional officers who are elected independently by voters in each county.

"As you are well aware, we are responsible for carrying out our duties and the citizens and voters in our counties are the people best able to evaluate that performance," Stafford wrote, calling the extra credit score "inappropriate."

Criteria included when counties set up and announced locations of early voting sites, when offices loaded data onto the Internet on election night, when ballots were mailed, dates voter files were updated and when certified precinct results were provided.

But Edwards noted that a state law passed last year requires supervisors to submit early and absentee elections results at 7:30 p.m. and her office submitted them early, earning a zero, while Taylor County received a negative 1 for being one minute late. Edwards said the three lowest counties also maintained they submitted information, but weren't scored accurately.

"Our concern is we have worked so hard in our local counties to develop confidence in our offices," Edwards said. "We have followed the law. To have something like this reflect our performance is not right."

Lane Wright, a spokesman for Scott, did not say why he had pursued the rankings, but said he'd agreed to take time to "evaluate the concerns."

There's been an ongoing tug of war between local elections officials and state officials since the chaotic presidential recount of 2000 exposed flaws in the state's election system. In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush suspended one elections supervisor from office and later pushed for legislation that would allow the state to tell local supervisors how to do their job.

Last year, the Legislature passed a controversial elections bill that allows the Secretary of State to give "written directions and opinions" on elections supervisors' performance. However, it is unclear what would happen if a supervisor ignored directions.

Edwards, once a school teacher, questioned why state officials didn't speak individually to county supervisors about any deficiencies. "If I had problems with students, I talked to them individually, not in front of my whole class," she said.

Scott, a former hospital chain executive, has consistently preached the need to measure everything to improve state government. A test-based ranking of the state's 67 school districts released by the state Department of Education this year prompted critics to brand it "simplistic and misleading."

Some election officials said they were told Scott may soon start ranking other county elected officials.

This article contains material from The Associated Press.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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