Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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All Our Elections Must Be Like Columbia County's: Trustworthy

In Florida, elections are handled almost entirely on the local level. Each county maintains its own voter rolls and conducts its own election. County races are counted and the outcomes determined there. For statewide or multi-county races, the state gathers results from the various counties and winners for those offices are declared. But the purchasing of voting equipment, voting itself, the counting of votes and all of the administrative functions that happen every day are handled almost exclusively at the local level.

We elect our supervisor of elections. When an election is underway, the supervisor works with our county judge and a county commissioner who make up a local canvassing board to deal with questions that come up during the election. For all the responsibility we have shifted up to our state capitols and to Washington, D.C., an election is still an intimately local affair.

During the 2018 election cycle I had the unique opportunity to observe our County’s entire election process up-close and personal, beginning with the primaries and continuing through completion of the manual recount. Professionally, I served as the canvassing board’s attorney. Personally, I was also able to observe our process through the eyes of a citizen. I am pleased to report that I am very proud of the things I witnessed these last few months.

Columbia County’s Supervisor of Elections Liz Horne and folks who make up her staff are all deeply committed to a fair and thorough election process. They show their commitment in everything they do and say. They know that when everyone follows the same rules, the voters and candidates alike are far more likely to experience a fair election.  When that happens, we all get to share a sense of confidence in the results of those elections. We enjoy a feeling of trust that our election was fair, and that our elected leaders have taken their positions by and through the will of the people.

Unfortunately, during this cycle we have  witnessed  what can happen when supervisors of elections do not adhere strictly to election laws: lost ballots, sloppy handling of ballots, and failure to meet deadlines all give rise to suspicion.  Aside from any technical violations that may occur as a consequence of these failures, the real and lasting result is an erosion of the public trust in the electoral process. People who feel the rules were violated, either by willful action or incompetence, have reason to doubt the legitimacy of an election. These circumstances are avoidable, but we see them all too often.

Far from the punch line  of another joke at the expense of our great state, these incidents pose a threat to the  fiber of our democratic republic.

At all levels the American form of government is unique in the world for its careful deference to the will of the people. We all have our say through the vote. Our elected leaders, with their hopefully well thought out ideas, are the filter for the collective will of the people. Because of this special relationship between the people and their government, the process by which we elect our leaders and our confidence in the reliability of our elections is of critical importance.

When it comes to the elections process, there are no inconsequential elections. From the race for President of the United States down to each school board, city council, and county commission voters and candidates alike must feel assured that when their votes are counted and tabulated their vote stands among the  rest.

If American government is truly the trust Henry Clay considered, and if the voters are placing their trust in the men and women they elect to govern them, then the process by which that is made real -- the election -- must be built and conducted with that same trust. To violate that trust, whether by deliberate action or negligent indifference, is an affront to our Constitution and law itself.

Anything less than a pure and orderly election threatens to destroy the essence that distinguishes the American process and gives meaningful voice to our people.

Columbia County citizens  can sleep well knowing their votes were treated with the  deference our Republic requires.

Everyone  needs to demand the same treatment from those few counties which failed to provide their voters and candidates with the same level of confidence that was provided by Columbia County’s officials and citizen volunteers.

Joel Foreman is Columbia County's County Attorney. He is the only popularly elected County Attorney in the state of Florida.

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