Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Polling Places Were on Tap at County 5 Last Night Budgets, Voting Machines, Churches for Voting  

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night at the County 5 polling places were front and center. District 1 Commissioner Ronald Williams has been representing the largest and most northern district in Columbia County for almost 4 decades. Various forces combined to reduce polling places in District 1. Supervisor of Elections Liz Horne came to The 5 to explain what happened and answer questions. Com. Williams was not happy. Supervisor Horne stood her ground. But there was more to the story.

A Voting Machine Tsunami Could Have Been on the Way

Asst. SOE Tomi Brown

In January 2017, the Columbia County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) had received new voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. The SOE had contracted for 32 machines at a cost of $500k, enough machines to provide the County's voters with 13 polling places. Deep Creek in the thinly populated northern part of the County was to be maintained as a polling place. The Florida Division of Elections must certify the states voting machines. These Dominion models were certified.

In June 2017, the state uncertified the Dominion machines, claiming they were not ADA compliant.

According to Assistant Supervisor of Elections Tomi Brown, "We immediately got with Dominion and the state. Dominion told us to hold tight, their lawyers were working on it."

By the time November 2017 rolled around the state still had not recertified the machines.

Your reporter asked Ms. Brown, "What happened next?"

Ms. Brown answered, "We were contacting Dominion every other week, inquiring about what the state was going to do: 'Are they going to certify the equipment? Are they going to allow us to use the equipment?' We couldn't wait any longer. Dominion told us the state wouldn't respond."

Your reporter asked, "Are you just taking Dominion's word?"

Ms. Brown answered, "Oh no, the state contacted us, too. That's how we found out. When we read back to them what we had, they pulled the certification off the website."

It appeared that the state never admitted that it screwed up. It just pulled the certification off the website.

Ms. Brown said the SOE Office had no problem with Dominion. "They extended our contract for an additional two years and kept the yearly fee the same. In order to stay within our budget, our order went from 32 units to 18 units and we reduced our polling places from 13 to 9."

Thursday Night at The 5

A large portion of District 1 is in the Osceola National Forest. The County is 801 sq. mi.

Chairman Tim Murphy invited Ms. Horne to the microphone.

Ms. Horne explained to The 5 that she had to purchase new equipment and added, "I will be open 8 days for early voting. That's 9 ½ hours a day and vote by mail for every voter that would prefer. Due to the amount of new equipment that was purchased certain polling locations will include more precincts."

Commissioner Williams began talking. Forever, he and the other members of The 5 routinely fail to use the microphones and refuse to use lapel mics.

Ms. Horne reminded Com. Williams, "You have to talk into the microphone if you want me to hear you, Mr. Williams."

Com. Williams leaned toward the microphone, "I think that we should be making voting easier for people, instead of harder. Your proposal would make some people have to drive from here almost to Jacksonville in order to vote, round trip. That's not fair."

Williams said that some people in order to vote would have to drive 60 miles round trip. "People have a right to vote closer to where they live at and not drive 60 miles round trip with gas and that. That is ridiculous in my eyesight, but that's your call, but I tell you what, 'The people in that area is very, very upset." [as spoken]

We checked Com. Williams "60 miles round trip" figure with the SOE Office's Melinda Fryman. She said she checked the distance from the northern most voter in District 1 to the polling place at Winfield: the distance – 17 miles each way.

Ms. Horne said, "I'm sure they are. People get upset every day. Do you make decisions up here that please everybody every time you vote for something? No you don't. And I did what was right for the Supervisor of Elections Office."

Ms. Horne explained to The 5 that she had bought the equipment and after it was received she heard from the state that it was unusable: "the state said it made a mistake."

Deciding Which Locations to Close

Ms. Brown explained, "Ms. Horne pulled her staff together and they decided on the best locations to close."

Tax Payer Supported Buildings
Churches Aren't What They Used to Be

Ms. Horne explained the dilemma when using churches as polling places:  "One thing is we need to be in taxpayer supported buildings, which Deep Creek is, but the others were churches. I'm trying to get everybody moved. People do not respect churches anymore. They do not like Jesus Christ's picture being on the wall when they go in there to vote. They don't like what's on the marquee outside. I get told about that."

Ms. Horne continued, "Churches were the backbone of Columbia County having places to vote. They work with us at every occasion that they can. But I see their side of it now, when they get people coming there cussing on the church grounds; throwing down cigarettes; and not protecting their property."

New & More Equipment

Ms. Horne explained to The 5 that she still hadn't received the new equipment, "I am getting worried about it. It is getting late in the season and we need to be trained on it.  I don't know that I can get anymore and it would cost a good $200,000 or more to try to get any."

Commissioner Williams Was Not Convinced
North Enders Are "Sucking the Hind Tit"

Commissioner Williams reiterated that some folks will have to drive 60 miles round trip to vote and claimed the Supervisor of Elections was discouraging people from voting.

Ms. Horne responded, "We are not discouraging anybody from voting."

Legendary Com. Williams met his match in SEO Liz Horn

Com. Williams said, "We're making it harder for the folks up on the north end of the county. It's always seem like the north end of the County got to suck the hind tit on everything that we got to do."

Ms. Horne: "I don't think so."

Williams: "From the Supervisor of Elections Office to every other Constitutional Officer in this buildin' along with this Board of County Commissioners... And by golly -- it needs to stop sometime. But if you can live with it, I can't do anything about it. You made your decision. I just wanted you to know I am against it 100% and the people on the north end is against it also."

Before the article was posted, Ms. Fryman said, "The Supervisor of Elections Office had not received any calls."

Ms. Horne said the changes affect all the Commissioners.

Com. Williams said, "I can't help it if they're not speakin' up."

Ms. Horne said, "They're working with me."

Commissioner Nash told Ms. Horne, "I appreciate all you do. I know it was a difficult decision."

Commissioner DePratter seconded the notion.


Ms. Horne told the Observer, "If I would have realized that this would have caused this much turmoil I may have consulted the commissioners, but we have opened and closed polling locations for the past ten years or more and never brought it before the BOCC and never have they complained."

"In the future, when making polling location changes, I will contact the County Manager so he can keep the County Commissioners informed."

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