Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary, held Jan. 29, clearly demonstrated the immediate need for voter education, not only in Hillsborough County, but throughout the state of Florida. I believe we can and must do more to ensure that every voter is fully informed and prepared to cast his or her vote with confidence.
Information lines to our Supervisor of Elections Office were flooded with calls on Election Day – mostly from voters who needed help. Many calls we received were from voters who were confused about what they could vote for, whether their votes would be relevant to the final convention delegate count, and even their party affiliations.
A number of these callers did not understand Florida’s closed primary election system, in which only registered Republicans vote for Republican candidates and only registered Democrats vote for Democrat candidates. Independent voters cannot participate in either primary contest; however, all registered voters were able to cast ballots for or against the Amendment 1 initiative.
Another point of confusion occurred with residents who are registered in another Florida county but have recently moved to Hillsborough County and wished to vote here. Their registrations had to be verified in the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS).
I am concerned that additional challenges may surface in the Aug. 26th Primary and Nov. 4th General Election if we do not take steps to provide clear and concise information to voters.
In addition, at those elections voters in Hillsborough County will cast their ballots using a new paper ballot system, as mandated by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature. While the paper ballot system will provide a higher degree of confidence and a paper trail, it will be a completely different way to vote.
To avoid confusion and assist voters during the transition, it is imperative that the Supervisor of Elections Office carry out a multifaceted education program to reach out to voters from a variety of backgrounds. While resources will be expended to carry out these efforts, costs will be significantly defrayed by funding from the Help America Vote Act, previously passed by Congress.
My staff and I have diligently examined and re-examined all certified paper ballot systems currently available in Florida. Having completed this review, we are now confident to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners a system we believe is the best to maintain accuracy in elections while providing the wisely mandated, voter-verifiable paper audit trail.
With the integrity of our election systems uppermost in our minds, we must work diligently to inform voters of recent changes while continuing to ensure safe, secure and accurate elections.
Buddy Johnson is the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections