Jennifer Edwards’ life revolves around election cycles
On July 1, 2000, Jennifer Edwards was sworn in as supervisor of elections in Collier County. Edwards is running again this year, unopposed at the present time, but that could always change, as she knows.
When she first took office, Edwards supervised Collier’s election role in the the Bush-Gore presidential race, which lasted more than 30 days before it was settled. Two years after the election, more changes were made to election law than had been made in 200 years.
Today, Edwards enjoys her leisure time, working in the yard at her home on Marco Island and looks forward to the upcoming November General Election.
Edwards grew up in Eastern Kentucky in the little town of Olive Hill (population, 1,500). Her father, Vernon, was a tobacco farmer and owned a business in town. The farm had cattle and a few horses and a pony Edwards named Fury.
She attended a one-room schoolhouse with a potbelly stove in the center and outdoor bathrooms and a well for water.
“The big boys had to get the well water and we all brought our own jelly glass that we kept by the cooler. If we wanted a glass of water we would go get it,” said Edwards.
After a couple years, she attended a school in Olive Hill where she completed high school and then attended the University of Kentucky. She met her husband and they had a daughter.
After college, they moved to London, Ky., where he practiced law and Jennifer taught school and then went into school administration at a local school board office. They moved to Frankfort, Ky., where she worked for the state department of education.
“I audited schools across the commonwealth of Kentucky and lived Woodford County,” said Edwards.
Move to Naples
In 1984, Edwards moved to Naples, where she took a job with Naples Federal Savings and Loan. Over time, it became a bank and was purchased by Wells Fargo. Her job as internal auditor at the bank was to do surprise branch audits. There were 40 branches in Florida.
“When training to be an auditor I learned you could be a gotcha auditor or an auditor who says, ‘These are some areas we need to improve,’ ” said Edward. She pursued the second type. “It was my job to identify weaknesses, but also to help them do better. My style was to be helpful and find ways to improve.”
She did that for three years.
In 1987, Edwards worked for the Collier County government as a budget analyst, where she got to know the then-supervisor of elections, Mary Morgan, who held the office 20 years. Edwards told Morgan she was interested in the job, but would never run against her.
“But if you ever decide you do not want to be supervisor of elections, let me know because I’m interested in the job,” Edwards told her.
In early spring 2000, Morgan called Edwards and said, “Dust off your resume because I am not going to conduct another General Election.”
Three people in the county applied to the governor’s office to complete the term of the supervisor of elections and Edwards was selected. Jeb Bush was governor at the time. In the fall 2000 she officially ran for the position and won.
“I feel very honored to hold this office,” said Edwards. “We call ourselves the gatekeepers of democracy.”
In 1992, Jennifer and her husband, Ronnie, who loves to hunt and fish, moved to Marco Island.
“We found a house on North Barfield on a corner lot that is is an original Deltona,” said Edwards.
She began experimenting with plants that didn’t need a lot of attention.
“If I’m at anybody’s house and I see a plant that I like, I always ask if I can have a piece. I can walk around my back yard and tell you which plants people have given me.”
Her Southern heritage taught her that to say thanks, and she takes them a plant from her yard.
“When I am around plants, I feel closer to God,” said Edwards. “My backyard is therapy for me. On weekends I will spend a number of hours just pulling weeds and spreading mulch.”
About 22 years, ago Edwards brought home a 4-month-old African Gray parrot she named Bubba. He lives in a modified gazebo with driftwood perches picked up from the beaches around Marco.
“Bubba will bite and is bonded to me,” she said.
It is quite a sight to see Bubba following her around as she works in the yard and hangs out at the pool. Bubba’s life expectancy is around 60 years.
Most of Edwards travels nowadays consist of attending conferences to receive more credentials in order to give the best service possible to the voters of Collier County and then again, you might just run into Edwards at one of the thrift stores around town, looking for the perfect pot for some of her plants.
“Last week I put a pineapple in one from the Bargain Basket,” she said.
Getting ready for the primary in August, there is one week in June called “qualify week” in Florida Election Law, beginning at noon on June 20 and ending at noon June 24. During that time, anyone who wants to run must complete the process.
“That means your name will be on the ballot,” said Edwards. “If there is no opposition, your name does not appear on the ballot. It is assumed you will vote for yourself and you will win.”
She remembers someone running in 10 minutes before the deadline to file and another time someone came in to file 10 minutes too late and was quite disappointed.
“Everything in my life revolves around the election cycle,” says Edwards, who suggests local voters go to colliervotes.com for more information.
“My granddaughter was born during an election year and I may not get to visit my relatives in Kentucky until the odd number years,” she said.