NEW PORT RICHEY — After the 2018 election in Florida, which included recounts in the U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and commissioner of agriculture statewide races, the Pasco County supervisor of elections and his staff probably thought they would have a nice stretch of time to clear the decks and reset for a potentially raucous 2020 election season.
But, a state representative resignation and turmoil with a city’s mayor and council kept the Election office on their toes and busier than normal in 2019.
Special elections were held this year to elect a mayor and two City Council members in Port Richey and a new District 38 state representative after Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, was named executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
If the calendar and fate holds, Supervisor of Election Brian Corley and his staff have a little time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday before they gear up for the next big vote on March 17, 2020, when voters will cast their ballots in the Florida Presidential Preference Primary.
“Election Days for us are sort of like Thanksgiving,” Corley said. “There’s all the preparation for the big meal. Then, the big meal comes. And then, a few days to clean up.”
Corley was appointed to the office in 2007, after Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning was appointed Florida secretary of state by Gov. Charlie Crist. Browning, who was elected Pasco supervisor in 1980, when he was 22 years old, return to Pasco in 2012 and was elected Pasco Schools superintendent.
Corley says things have changed in how ballots are counted and protected even during the time he has been in charge.
“In the old days, you had to go where the results were being posted – here it would have been in Dade City,” Corley said. “You would have to wait until 11 or 11:30 that night for results.”
Candidates are now told they can get the results through a myriad of sources, including their own home.
“Because of technology, the results are available just about as fast as they are counted and are posted directly to our Pascovotes.com website,” Corley said. “What’s funny is if it’s 7:20 p.m. and there are a few precincts out, I will get a call asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I go, ‘Hey, the polls just closed 20 minutes ago.’”
Although an avowed aficionado of the electoral process, Corley said even he “took for granted what happens behind the scenes” before his appointment as elections supervisor.
“We live in two-year cycles,” he said. “In even-numbered years, we don’t have much of a life. In odd-numbered years, there is more normalcy where we do more of the things that aren’t as glamourous as Election Day – things like maintenance, keeping the voter rolls up to date.”
He said the Pasco election team uses the model of “planning, implementation and assessment.”
“Right now, we are in the planning phases for the March presidential preference primary,” Corley said. “Then during the election cycle itself, that’s the implementation, which has become a longer process with the expansion of early voting and an explosion of voter-by-mail. After the election is over and the dust settles, we analyze every facet of what occurred and what we can do better.”
During recounts in 2018, “we had more people at our facility than ever before,” Corley said.
He added: “They were mostly partisans from either side of the aisle. There were lawyers from the various campaigns and so many others. It is all about transparency, which makes our system unique. But, when the dust settled, the confidence and the comments from those observers saying how well our team had done promoted a confidence in the process at a time when we needed it.”
Between 2018 and the 2019 special elections, the time frame for odd-numbered year projects got “squeezed” for what is essentially a small year-round staff.
Much of that preparation now involves election security, which Corley said has become “an everyday thing.”
“If you had told me 10 years ago I would have to be working with the Department of Homeland Security for elections, I probably would have laughed,” he said. “But, technology is changing on a daily basis. I can assure all Pasco voters we are hyper-vigilant on the security front. So much so, there are things I can’t even discuss.”
He said there is an amazing relationship with the county and law enforcement when it comes to holding elections.
“The county has been offering free bus rides for voters on Election Day as well as helping with equipment transfers. And our local law enforcement, particularly the Sheriff’s Office, has been extraordinary in helping provide secure voting areas for both voters and poll workers,” Corley said.
He noted there is still plenty of time to register in order to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary, to be held March 17, 2020; municipal elections on April 14, 2020; primary elections on Aug. 18, 2020; and the general election on Nov. 3, 2020.
“Voters can register up to 30 days prior to an election,” Corley said. “There has been an awful lot of American sacrifice to win over this right to elect our representatives. If you opened a process like this in North Korea, you would probably have to spend weeks in line to cast a vote. Here in America, and Pasco County, it could not be easier. There is no reason not to vote.”