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Hot Topics Brings the Heat

Judi Hayes | Published on 6/13/2024
LWVOC Hot Topics June 2024
Who Has Your Vote? Supervisor of Elections Candidate Forum
By Judi Hayes

The League of Women Voters of Orange County hosted a lively forum June 12 for the Orange County Supervisor of Elections candidates. Nick Shannin, attorney for the SOE office, moderated the event, and current supervisor Glen Gilzean, the first African-American supervisor in Orange County history, joined us briefly to give an update on his office’s activities and thanked LWVOC for our longtime participation in the Adopt-a-Precinct program. Gilzean surprised many with his decision 48 hours later not to run for the SOE position.

Because the candidates’ forum took place on June 12, both Gilzean and LWVOC President Kathy Schmitz invited us to take a moment to honor the lives lost at Pulse Nightclub in 2016. The supervisor talked about the livestream ballot counting initiative he brought to the office, and some of the new precincts that have opened. Voters will get new ID cards, and he has a $1 million budget request for voter education.

After the supervisor's presentation, the candidates took the stage. They are Karen Castor Dentel, a former state representative and current school board member, Cynthia Harris, a community advocate and executive director of the Carson-Chaney house, attorney Dan Helm, former deputy regional director of voter protection, Wes Hodge, the former Orange County Democratic Party chair, and Sunshine Grund, a real estate broker and former candidate for Orlando mayor. Harris is running with no party affiliation, and the rest are running as Democrats in a closed primary on August 20. In the Democratic primary, the winner takes all — will appear on the general election ballot. There has been speculation that Gilzean will file and run as a Republican, but as of the date we go to print, he has not.

The candidates were all asked about vote by mail, early voting and Election Day voting. Most agreed that expanded access and voter education are of paramount importance.

Karen Castor Dentel spoke about the existence of voting deserts and the need for more flexible hours for voting. When she was a state legislator, she filed a bill that expanded voting access in Orange County. She emphasized that the supervisor’s office needed to be a trusted source of information and probably could benefit from strengthened ethical guidelines and competitive bidding for contracts, with an emphasis on safety for voters and poll workers that doesn’t necessarily involve law enforcement.

Cynthia Harris emphasized the historical significance of the right to vote, and the need to remain nonpartisan to welcome all voters. She spoke about capturing voters at nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities and streamlining the voting process, as well as educating teens and adults about voting.

Dan Helm, who described himself as “Voting Man,” brought up the idea of developing an app for voting with anticipated wait times and text messaging, as well as universal prepaid vote by mail ballots. He was concerned about the availability of ballot images and the retention of paper ballots and expressed disdain at the idea of either party’s chair counting ballots.

Wes Hodge said that his experience as former party chair gave him a unique opportunity to be in the room where the magic happens — he’s had plenty of experience with the canvassing board. He stressed the need to expand disability access to the polls and gave an update on the ballot imaging system currently in use. Both parties aren’t the same, he pointed out — Democrats across the board are the ones fighting to protect the right to vote and expand access to the polls. He wants to overhaul the SOE website and modernize it.

Sunshine Grund spoke about improving voter engagement and auditing the results, as well as the problematic nature of fundraising as a candidate for the office.

There was some discussion about the confusion around Orange County ballot initiatives for the rural boundary and the half-cent sales tax to benefit OCPS schools. The current supervisor has not clarified whether these popular amendments will be on the ballot despite their advocates having met all the criteria.

It was a lively discussion and certainly more exciting than one would expect the Supervisor of Elections race to be.

LWVOC member Terry Gillam reminded everyone to check the voting guide and note which local candidates declined to participate — and ask them why! Voting isn’t a spectator sport; we all need to get in the game.