SEBRING — Two county commissioners have agreed to serve as alternates on the Highlands County Canvassing Board for the upcoming primary election.
Commissioner Don Elwell has volunteered to serve in place of County Commission Chair Ron Handley, who won’t be available during the upcoming vote. Commissioner Jim Brooks will fill in, if needed, for Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg.
Commissioners set those two alternates by unanimous vote on Tuesday, at Ogg’s request.
She said the board consists of the chair of the Board of County Commission — Handley — herself and the county court judge, currently Judge Anthony Ritenour.
Head of the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Judge Ellen Masters in Bartow, has appointed Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada as Ritenour’s alternate, Ogg said.
Ogg said every canvassing board member has to have an alternate, just in case the appointed member is not available to serve.
Under Florida law, a county canvassing board meets in a building accessible to the public in the county where the election occurred at a time and place to be designated by the supervisor to publicly canvass the absentee ballots and the provisional ballots, under Florida law.
Provisional ballot results are kept separate from other votes, under state law, and as soon as absentee and provisional ballots are canvassed, the board publicly canvasses the vote given each candidate, nominee, constitutional amendment and other measures, as shown by the returns received by Ogg’s office that day.
The upcoming vote on March 17 is the Presidential Preference Primary, with early voting set for March 7-14.
The general primary for local and state offices is on Aug. 18. The general election is Nov. 3, with early voting from Oct. 22-31.
The deadline to register to vote and/or declare a party for the Presidential Preference Primary was Tuesday.
If people favor a candidate from a certain party for an office, and that person has competition from within the party, the only way to choose that person, Ogg said, is to vote in a primary.
Because Florida is a closed primary state, they also have to belong to that party to select a candidate to go on to the general election, Ogg said.
That’s true for all offices, she said: President of the United States, congressional seats, state offices, county officials and municipal government.
If multiple candidates from one party are running for the same office, and they have no opponent from an opposing party, that contest can be decided at a primary by all voters.
However, if all those same-party candidates have even one opposing candidate from any party, the only way anyone can decide which one of the same-party candidates will go on to the general election is through a primary — if they belong to that party.
When asked by county commissioners on Tuesday, Ogg said this canvassing board would be in place for this primary election. For the upcoming congressional, state and local primary in August, she will have a different canvassing board. One reason for this is that, under Florida law, a member of the canvassing board cannot serve if he or she is a candidate with opposition in that upcoming election. If they don’t have opposition, they can still serve, because they are not on the ballot for that vote.
Elwell, for example, will be unable to serve as an alternate in the August primary because, as a candidate for Clerk of Courts, he and fellow Republicans Kyle Green and Jerome Kaszubowski are vying for that office. Thus, Elwell cannot canvass the votes for and against him — as long as all of them qualify by June 12 to be put on the ballot.
Brooks is not running for reelection at all. Handley is up for reelection, but doesn’t have any opposition from his own party at this time. Handley is facing Democrat Bobby Smith-Powell in the general election, and will be unable to canvass votes at that time.
The contest for Clerk, however, will likely be decided at the August primary — unless a Democratic candidate comes forward. At the general election, then, one way or the other, Elwell would still be finishing his term as county commissioner and might still be able to substitute for Handley.
Ogg said any other registered voter could substitute for Handley or herself, if any of the current alternates are unable or disqualified from serving.