Supervisor of Elections election

Debbie Hannifan, left, is challenging incumbent Polk Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, right, this fall.

POLK COUNTY – A fairly uncommon issue regarding voters’ ability to participate in primary elections was at the core of a disagreement between the two candidates for Polk County Supervisor of Elections last week.

The Sun received an anonymous request to investigate a potential voter registration problem — that, for the past few years, when someone registers to vote at the driver's license office, sometimes that process doesn't always work as intended.

When someone changes their name and their address at the same time while applying for a new driver's license, occasionally the voter registration card comes back as having no party affiliation — even if the individual had previously registered as a voter affiliated with a political party.

A Florida voter with a non-party affiliated card cannot vote in a primary election, as Florida is a closed primary state. That poses an issue, then, for voters who may be otherwise unaware that their affiliation had reverted to no party affiliation.

The individual making the anonymous request implied that Polk Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards knew about the problem and was not doing enough to remedy it.

In response, Edwards acknowledged the issue did sometimes occur, but said the issue is a Tallahassee-level problem and that she has been lobbying to fix it for the past six years.

Edwards is facing off against Debbie Hannifan in the general election in November. Hannifan cites the issue, and the lack of action on it, as one of her inspirations for seeking the office.

“I have been aware of this issue since 2016, when I was approached by numerous voters that were turned away at the polls due to this mistake,” Hannifan said. “Lori’s attempt to explain this foul up is nothing more than her refusing to acknowledge her error and the fact that she has known about this issue for years without finding a solution.

“This is one of the reasons I decided to run,” Hannifan continued. “The Supervisor of Elections must protect your voting rights, not systematically disenfranchise voters.”

Edwards said the problem is between two computer databases in Tallahassee that need to be upgraded. She says that state officials claim there is not enough money allocated to do so. Edwards said the problem presents itself a handful of times each month in Polk County. The few times this happens each month, that person usually has to follow up with the Supervisor of Elections and request a party affiliation change in order to be eligible to vote in a Florida primary election.

Edwards maintains that it is not an issue that can be remedied from Polk County.

“I'm fighting for voters to get this straight and it's not happening in our office,” Edwards said. “It's happening between two computer systems in Tallahassee.”

Hannifan, however, was insistent that the issue should be something Edwards is more proactive in resolving.

“She is blaming the DMV system, but to knowingly allow the error to happen without implementing your own corrective action is wrong,” Hannifan said. “As a result, the voter rolls are inaccurate and this has caused voters to lose the right to vote for their candidates in the primary elections.”