While it may still feel as if the 2020 election cycle won’t end, the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections office is looking to 2021.
“Elections don’t really stop,” said Katie Fults, public relations and voter education coordinator for the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections.
This year, the office will offer its “Candidate University” course virtually as a safe alternative in the midst of the pandemic.
After a record-breaking general election, the office hopes to see some of that interest trickle down to municipal races. Races in the March 9, 2021, municipal election races include Fort Walton Beach mayor and three City Council seats; Laurel Hill mayor and two City Council seats, and Shalimar mayor and two Town Commission seats.
Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have no municipal races scheduled for 2021 at this time.
Okaloosa’s Candidate University is a three-hour course on what to expect when running for office. It’s unique to the Okaloosa SOE office and offered free of charge.
“It’s about what it takes to be a candidate in the state of Florida,” explained Fults. “It covers how to open a candidate account and all of the steps it takes to fully qualify as a candidate.”
The candidates qualifying period begins Dec. 28 and ends at noon Jan. 1. For anyone interested in running, Fults says not to wait.
“That qualifying deadline is a hard deadline set by the state,” she said. “If someone comes in at 12:01, we can’t do anything.”
Fults said the class is meant to be a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the Florida statutes. The classes help make running for local office in Okaloosa County more accessible.
“We’re not going to tell you how to run your campaign, but we do try to make the process (of applying) easy,” she said. “Trying to gather all of the information can be like trying to drink from a fire hose, but we always go over everyone’s questions.”
You don’t have to run for office to take the class. Fults said there’s typically a mix of those who are planning to run and those who take the class out of sheer curiosity. There’s even repeat attendees who join to stay current on the laws.
Many people running for local offices are running for the first time, and the classes provide some insight into the commitment it takes.
“There might be people out there who see something they want changed,” said Fults. “This is the first step you can take. In 2018, we had a high-schooler who was interested in running for office and he took the class.”
While the class is virtual for the time being, Fults said the office is preparing for in-person or some kind of hybrid class for later in 2021. Like many of us, the office has learned to adapt in 2020 after facing its own COVID outbreak when Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux and another employee contracted the virus. But don’t worry, even virtual attendees get their certificate, or “diploma” as Fults said.
While it’s hard to predict interest in municipal races, Fults said she hopes to see more people interested in running and voting. Okaloosa County had a 78% voter turnout on Nov. 3, with 117,124 residents casting their ballots. Voter turnout for last year’s municipal election was just 8%, although it was higher in previous years for mayoral races.
“One thing I’m hoping for is for the interest from the general election to carry over to March,” said Fults. “These are the races that affect people the most. We need to impress upon young people that these candidates are the ones directly impacting your life.”
Register for “Candidate University” with Katie Fults at 689-5600 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.