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Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 8, 200812:00 PM EST

A conversation with Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland


from staff

In less than three weeks, voters will head to the polls to elect a new State Attorney, two Circuit Court judges and several other local races. Nov. 4, the nation will vote in arguably the most important election in the history of the country. Right in the middle of all it will be Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland and his staff.

Thursday morning, Holland sat down with the editorial staff at the Daily Record to talk about everything from voting to his vacation plans.

There are 20 days until the Aug. 26 primary, is your office prepared?

Every election so far, the State has either changed the election laws or there has been a change in equipment. This is no different. We have removed the touch screens and installed the Automark system. Now, when everyone casts their vote, it is all on paper. I think it helps in voter confidence by going to paper ballots.

During early voting we will not “pick and pull.” All of the ballots will be at the voting site. There are close to 1,000 different ballot styles and human error is not infallible. We will have ballot-on-demand. This means you present your driver’s license, the poll worker gives the computer the information and it prints your ballot.

You said Tallahassee wants to know who votes early and who votes absentee by precinct. Why?

At the (State) elections office they are always looking at data. If you are running for office again, you may want to know which voters vote early so you know when to drop your mail(outs). Campaign funds are limited, so you want to drop your mail at the right time.

You have said there will be lines out the door during the Nov. 4 general election. The polls close at 7 p.m. What will you do about the people still in line?

If they are in line, they can still vote. At 7, the polls close and we will have someone at the end of the line. If they don’t get to vote, we hope they at least remember the message.

What’s your biggest worry over the elections?

On the first one, it’s always the voters who registered through the Division of Motor Vehicles. They may have changed parties or they registered under the wrong party. One of those makes them most upset, but we can’t do anything about it. We are working with DVM to correct those problems. In November, the biggest concern will be turnout and we are dealing with that. We will have 100 percent of the ballots at each precinct regardless of turnout. We will have increased staff, roving clerks and roving technicians to work on the equipment. We have tried to look back at everything that has presented problems and deal with it. With over 450,000 voters and a turnout of 80 percent, it will be like dealing with three Super Bowls in one day.

Will you bring in more poll workers?

There is still a maximum you can have and we’ll have about 3,000, which is 600 more than in the spring election. It’s a very long day that starts around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and runs until 9 or 9:30 p.m. And, they can’t leave the precinct. They bring their own food and some are outstanding chefs. They are paid a minimum of $170 a day and $250 a day for precinct managers. We are the second-highest paying county in the state.

On election day, what’s your day like?

I’ll get to the election center around 5–5:30 a.m. and will generally be there for the day to answer questions and make sure nothing goes wrong. When I first started the job, I thought I’d be able to get out to some of the voting sites and check up on them but the first time I tried I made it two miles before my phone rang and I had to come back. People will still be voting after the polls officially close at 7 p.m., especially in November, and then we have to transmit the results. On a good night I’ll be out around midnight but I have been at the center as late as 2:30 a.m. It’s a full day.

How will you deal with the media election night?

Everyone wants results at 7:01. By 7:15 I can release the absentee and early voting results. I tell the candidates and the media the best gauge is the poll sample. I tell them it will not change much. If there’s a big spread, I tell the candidates to go ahead and celebrate. If the spread is 2-3 points, I tell the candidate, “Stay with me through the night.”

The elections office has had credibility problems for decades to the point where a citizen (attorney Bill Scheu) was put in charge of it in hopes of regaining public confidence. Since your election as Supervisor of Elections, what progress have you made in putting credibility into the office?

When I took over, I met with those who have been critical and I heard the same thing from them: you’ve got to earn our confidence. You have to be open and you have to treat everyone the same. People realize there will be problems — when you have 3,000 workers, there certainly will be incidents of human error. They will understand that if you have an immediate response to the problems and are open with them. In 2006, we ran out of ballots in some precincts but we solved it quickly and didn’t hide the fact that there was a problem.

I’m not sure the public has full confidence but I know the elected officials are behind us. I’m proud that people like Rep. (Corrine) Brown and Sen. (Tony) Hill have promoted our efforts. I’m proud that the Democratic Party chairman here endorsed me for reelection. We’re going in the right direction.

But I will always remember this: you’re only as good as your last election.

How has early voting affected elections in Duval County? Does it encourage more people to vote?

The main purpose obviously was to increase voter turnout. In some way, it’s going toward having election centers, which is where you don’t have an election day, you have an election month and you could vote at as many as 80 centers across the county. Has it increased voters? Somewhat, but not as much as we hoped.

Statistically, about one-sixth of voters vote early, one-sixth vote with an absentee ballot and two-thirds vote on election day. Early voting makes it convenient to vote, but does it get a person off the couch? Some people think what might make it more convenient is to do what they do in Oregon and vote by mail. The Legislature came very close this year to allowing municipal races to vote by mail as an option. Our office is pushing voting by mail with an absentee ballot as an alternative to voters having to stand in long lines in November. I’m not predicting, I’m guaranteeing there will be lines from an hour to two hours in November. Duval County will have the largest turnout in history, probably exceeding 85 percent.

Do voters in Duval County turn out in greater numbers per capita than voters in others areas of the country?

They don’t turn out in greater numbers compared to the national averages and sometimes not as compared to surrounding counties. In low economic areas, you’ll have less people voting than in higher economic areas. We have large low economic areas so typically our turnouts have been lower than surrounding counties.

There have been annual registration drives focused on high school students for the past four years. How that that effort changed the electorate?

We are required by State law to go into the high schools and colleges in the county to register voters. When we started the program, we registered at the schools for one day. Now we’re up to three days to take advantage of positive peer pressure. When students see other students registering and can get their questions answered, they can get the confidence to make the decision to go ahead and register to vote. We get lots of questions from students like, ‘If I register to vote will I be drafted?’

We also made it a competition between the schools. The school with the highest percentage of students registered of the available population. The schools really got pumped for that and the winning school gets to keep the trophy for a year.

How has the program grown?

The year before I took office, 2,100 students were registered. The first year I did it 3,600 were registered in the schools. The following year it was a two-day drive and we registered 5,200 new voters. This year we did it for three days and the total went to 7,500. I think the November election being a Presidential Election also helped us register a large number of students this year.

Do younger voters go to the polls as much as older voters?

In every demographic bracket from 18-25 to 65 and older the voter turnout by percentage goes up. I think as people get older, they see the importance of how their vote really counts. As they get older, they see the importance of voting and how voting can change their life. From local fees and taxes to State laws, voting has an impact on your life. When someone who has been living in an apartment buys a home, they realize the importance of property tax legislation. When they get married and have children, then education issues become important to them.

Can a negative campaign have an effect on voter turnout?

Yes, it can. One, it can build attention and, two, it can turn people away. Look at the election in Sarasota where Katherine Harris was running for U.S. Congress. That got so ugly and so nasty that no one voted in that race. (Harris was the Florida Secretary of State during the controversial 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Harris certified the election results in Florida, which led to Bush becoming the 43rd President of the U.S.)

You can get such negativity from campaigns that will keep people from voting. We can measure the people who go to the polls and don’t vote for a particular race, but we can’t measure the people who don’t show up in that situation.

You have mentioned in the past that you believe minority voters will have a large impact on the 85 percent plus turnout you expect in November’s general election. Have you seen the increase yet?

So far I’ve seen about 200–400 voter applications a week, many coming from people recruited by the Obama camp. I think you’ll see many more people registering to vote in the near future. It always tends to happen around crunch time when people say ‘Now we’ve got to make the numbers work.’ So far the quality of the applications have been good but the quality begins to lower when third party organizations such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) start arriving. Many third party organizations get paid for each registration, so applications tend to have more errors or are incomplete.

After the final votes are collected on Nov. 4, the results are in and the dust settles, what will you be doing in the short– and long-term?

Well it doesn’t end for us on Nov. 4. A required independent audit on several random precincts will happen to ensure that votes were correctly calculated, one of the measures that should help with voter confidence. After that, though, unless there’s a special election, we don’t have another election until Fall 2010. Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had a gap like that when we weren’t preparing for an election or upgrading equipment. We’ll be going forward with the student registration and voter drives to increase the numbers.

How much harder is your job because Florida will be so crucial in the upcoming presidential election.?

We are definitely a swing state. Florida offers a diverse population with different minority groups. We would have had a better turnout if both primaries had been open. We get groups from all over the world, like Nepal and Chile, that come in to learn about our election process. We are always asked to explain what happened in 2000. That puts a lot of pressure on Florida. The whole stigma of the 2000 election will continue to haunt us for a long time to come.

Any political aspirations after your time as Supervisor of Elections?

(laughing) I guess it’ll all depend on how I handle these upcoming elections. But like any politician, I’ll do whatever the people want me to do.

What has been your favorite political party name?

The Good Food Party

When is you next day off and what will you do?

It’s not this year other than weekends. Next year, my wife and I are going on a cruise.

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