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Florida elections chiefs dismiss 'The Big Lie' of 2020

2020 election.JPG
Jennie McKeon
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WUWF Public Media
Election signs outside a polling place in the 2020 election.

As supporters of former President Donald Trump continue to ignore his loss to Joe Biden last year, Florida’s elections officials are asking them to dial down the rhetoric.

“The Great American Experiment, our cherished democracy, is under threat.” That’s in a document issued by the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association. “Our nation,” it continues, “Is only as strong as the faith our citizens have that their voice, their vote, has a say in our government.”

“Folks from large counties, small counties — liberal to conservative — we’re all on the same page as far as administering elections,” said David Stafford, Escambia County elections chief, and a past president of the FSEA.” The real decisions on how those are administered as far as the policies are made by the legislature, and we carry them out.”

There are actually two documents that have been released — the original to elected officials, and another one addressed to Florida voters. Stafford supports both.

“We as supervisors, we are what I would consider non-partisan – but at worst a non-partisan organization,” he said. “We’re charged with administering our elections and I think with very few exceptions, over the course of the 18 years that I’ve been involved, politics hasn’t really seeped in.”

Perhaps the main concern, says Stafford, is the longtime bogus information that’s resulted in never-before seen avenues of vitriol.

“There’s threats against election officials; the foundation of our democracy is the peaceful transition of power, and that we have open, and free, and fair and transparent elections,” Stafford said. “That are administered at the local level, [and] that, at the end of that process, the results are accepted and everybody moves on.”

While the 67 elections supervisors, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, continue to assure voters that the election results are kosher, some GOP county leaders continue to question that. The statements are the first time the statewide supervisors association has called for a truce.

“Florida has still, somehow, been drug into the morass that is the elections that happened in other states that called into question election integrity,” said Paul Lux, who oversees elections in Okaloosa County, and is also a former FSEA president.

“Because there are some elected officials here in Florida who are continuing that narrative; and our concern of course, is for the greater election system as a whole,” Lux said. “Once people stop having confidence in the electoral system, you’re putting the nails in the coffin of our democracy overall.”

hanging chad
ALAN DIAZ/AP
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AP
FILE - This Nov. 24, 2000 file photo shows Broward County canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg using a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Twenty years ago, in a different time and under far different circumstances than today, it took five weeks of Florida recounts and court battles before Republican George W. Bush prevailed over Democrat Al Gore by 537 votes.

After the 2000 presidential election — when Florida gave us hanging and pregnant chads and a court fight that went to the U.S. Supreme Court — new rules were implemented for subsequent votes. And Lux says they worked, especially in 2020.

“I worked in the [Okaloosa] elections office in 2000; and all the growing pains that we went through, which culminated in what most people said was the best-run election in the nation in 2020,” said Lux. “[Only] to now still be held under that cloud because of mainly misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.”

“Here in Florida, things went very, very well; we were very pleased and I think we had everything wrapped up here in Santa Rosa County by 8:30 [p.m.],” said Elections Supervisor Tappie Villane. “But, since then there’s been a lot of questions and concerns.”

Part of the controversy, Villane believes, appears to stem from the fact that each state has its own voting laws they have to follow.

“Some states just do mail ballots; some states offer mail ballots along with in-person voting,” she said. People are frustrated [over] things that they may hear or see in social media, and maybe not fully understand what their particular state does.”

Conducting elections and getting ready for the next cycle is a full-time job for Florida’s elections offices. And Santa Rosa’s Tappie Villane says the voters can help make the process a bit easier for both themselves -- and the supervisors -- by asking questions to your local office.

“So that you’re getting the latest and greatest, and most up-to-date information; that’s what we’re here for, to inform people about upcoming elections, [and] how the process works,” Villane said. “Even when we’re in an active election process, I love for people to come by and be part of it. That’s the best way to learn.”

Meanwhile, all 67 supervisors are named as defendants in a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill-8; voting reforms that were passed by the Legislature earlier this year. Plaintiffs claim, among other things, that the new law seeks to curtail minority voting.