Skip to main content

News / Articles

RECAP: Supervisor of Elections Candidate Forum

Staff | Published on 6/30/2024

Hot Topics Brought the Heat!
Review 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.

Continue reading REVIEW below.

Accordion Widget

Karen Castor Dentel

As an elected official, community leader and public school teacher, Dr. Karen Castor Dentel has served the residents of Orange County for more than 25 years. Karen was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012 and has served on the Orange County School Board since 2018.


A lifelong Floridian, Karen was taught the value of public service at a young age. Karen has volunteered with several community organizations, including Chairing the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer; as a Board Member of the Orange County Regional History Center; as Chair of the Public Affairs Committee with the Junior League, and with the Orange County League of Women Voters.


As a FL legislator, the first bill Karen filed was to expand early voting locations. She fought for increased public education funding and against private school vouchers.


Representing District 6 on the School Board, Karen has helped to bring health screenings and educational resources to the Eatonville community with new opportunities with the new Orange Technical College-Eatonville campus, and free preschool for 2- and 3-year-olds at Hungerford Elementary. She also created the Voter Registration Initiative during Senior Check-out at OCPS High Schools. 


As Supervisor of Elections, Karen is uniquely positioned to continue to work with Orange County Public Schools to increase voter education and registration. She will expand SOE branch locations in the county, and ramp up year-round outreach efforts to inform voters about new laws, election security, and the increasingly complex election process.


Karen has a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, her master’s from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Her two children attended Orange County Public Schools. She remains committed to protecting democracy and empowering the people of Orange County to have a voice in their community.

Cynthia Harris

Cynthia Harris stands as a beacon of hope and change in the realm of community empowerment and social justice. With a career spanning decades, Cynthia has dedicated herself to uplifting marginalized communities, advocating for equitable policies and fostering opportunities for growth and development. Born in Mississippi and raised in Orlando, Florida, Cynthia’s passion for service and advocacy was ignited at a young age. Growing up in a community grappling with socioeconomic disparities, she witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by low-income families and individuals. This early exposure instilled in her a deep sense of empathy and a drive to make a difference in the lives of others.


Cynthia’s journey into community empowerment began with her educational pursuits. She pursued a degree in Criminal Justice/Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, driven by a desire to understand the systemic issues that perpetuate inequality and injustice. During her time at Valencia College and UCF, Cynthia became involved in various student-led initiatives focused on social justice and community outreach, laying the foundation for her future endeavors.


Upon graduating, Cynthia wasted no time in channeling her passion for social change into action. She embarked on a career in nonprofit management, where she could directly impact the lives of those in need. Her first role as Executive Director of the Carson-Chaney House marked the beginning of a lifelong commitment to serving underserved communities. Under her leadership, the Carson-Chaney House evolved into a hub of support services for low-income families, offering a wide range of programs designed to address their unique needs.


In her role as Chief Executive Officer of Economic Opportunity Training Operations, Cynthia pioneered innovative approaches to youth empowerment and entrepreneurship. Through this 501(c)(3)organization, she introduced students aged 9-20 to the world of business, providing them with the skills and resources needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive landscape. Cynthia’s dedication to fostering economic independence and self-sufficiency among youth earned her widespread acclaim and recognition within the community.


However, Cynthia’s commitment to community empowerment extends beyond the confines of her professional career. As Chair of the Valencia College Black Advisory Committee, she plays a pivotal role in promoting access to educational opportunities and advancing civic engagement among minority populations. Through her tireless advocacy and grassroots initiatives, Cynthia has become a driving force behind efforts to dismantle barriers to success and create a more inclusive society. Cynthia’s impact transcends organizational boundaries, as evidenced by her extensive involvement in volunteer work and activism. As State Racial Justice Chair for the National

Organization for Women (NOW), she spearheaded initiatives aimed at combating systemic racism and promoting equity for women of color. Her unwavering dedication to advancing civil rights and social justice has earned her respect and admiration from colleagues and community members alike.


In addition to her advocacy work, Cynthia has also distinguished herself as a political candidate with a vision for progressive change. Running for Orange County Supervisor of Elections, she brings to the table a wealth of experience and a steadfast commitment to integrity and transparency in the electoral process. Through her campaign, Cynthia seeks to empower voters, increase voter turnout and ensure that every voice is heard in the democratic process.


Beyond her professional accomplishments and accolades, Cynthia’s true legacy lies in the lives she has touched and the communities she has transformed. Whether through her work in nonprofit management, her advocacy efforts, or her political aspirations, Cynthia remains steadfast in her belief that collective action and solidarity can bring about meaningful change. Looking ahead, Cynthia Harris remains unwavering in her commitment to building a more just and equitable society for all. With her indomitable spirit, compassionate heart, and unwavering dedication to the cause of social justice, Cynthia continues to inspire others to join her in the fight for a brighter, more inclusive future. In every endeavor she undertakes, Cynthia Harris exemplifies the true essence of leadership – a steadfast commitment to serving others, a dedication to justice and equality and an unwavering belief in the power of community.

Dan Helm

Dan Helm is a dedicated member of the Florida Bar Association with a deep commitment to ensuring fair and lawful elections.


Dan’s passion for the electoral process blossomed during his time at the University of Florida, where he actively participated in voter registration initiatives. After graduating from the University of Florida, Dan attended Emory Law School. There, he deepened his understanding of the critical role that voting plays in safeguarding all other rights.


In 2016, Dan served as the Deputy Regional Director for Voter Protection in Central Florida. He trained and coached hundreds of lawyers and volunteers in election law, ensuring that polling locations were properly managed and that voter rights were protected across 13 counties. 

In 2018, Dan successfully sued against election law violations, which were disenfranchising voters, in Orange County.

In 2020, Dan took a stand against voter fraud by calling out illegal voting activities in Orange County by Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd. 


Dan is a former Democratic nominee for Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas County, highlighting his continuous dedication to electoral integrity.


Dan's personal life is deeply rooted in Florida. He and his wife, Rose, were married in Apopka and now reside in downtown Orlando with their son, Charles, and two rescue dogs. The Helm's enjoy family walks to local parks and are expecting their second child this Fall. Dan's commitment to protecting the electoral process is driven by his desire to secure a better future not just for his children, but for the entire country.

Wes Hodge

Wes Hodge is a two-time cancer survivor, known for his unwavering commitment to voter rights and his contributions to Orange County. As a fervent advocate for equitable and accessible voting, Hodge has dedicated his career to promoting democratic values and empowering marginalized communities.


Hodge has achieved success in various political campaigns throughout his career. His strategic vision and grassroots organizing skills have played a pivotal role in securing crucial victories for candidates in Orange County. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he knows firsthand the experiences that come with being a member of a marginalized community. Through his tireless efforts, Hodge has helped elect leaders who champion issues such as economic equality, social justice, healthcare reform and environmental sustainability.


In addition to his campaign work, Hodge served for six years as the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, demonstrating his ability to mobilize and unite diverse groups of people behind a common cause. Under his leadership, the party has experienced unprecedented growth, and he has overseen a deep-blue transformation in his county. Hodge has worked diligently to build a robust and inclusive party infrastructure, fostering collaboration and ensuring that all voices are heard.


As supervisor of elections, Hodge would:

— Long lines at early voting centers are a form of voter suppression. Most voters do not have the luxury of standing in line and waiting up to two hours to vote. I will implement appointment-based voting which allows voters to select the time and location of their choice for early voting. Of course, the traditional standby early voting will always remain available to voters.

— A Disability Advisory Board will be empowered to audit all precinct and early voting locations to ensure they meet current ADA guidelines and are located on accessible bus routes. Voting locations will also feature accommodations for voters with sensory needs.

— The Supervisor of Elections should be the leading official in educating returning citizens on registering to vote. The Florida Division of Elections has a process for any returning citizen to request an advisory opinion for their specific case. I am committed to making this process accessible to everyone.

— There has been a noticeable absence of the Elections Office at community cultural events, festivals, and art shows. I believe this lack of voter engagement results in lower participation. The biggest role a Supervisor of Elections should play is engaging the community outside of election season.

— Voter rolls are required by law to be updated or purged regularly. When this happens, I will work with our print, radio, and television partners to inform our community. One component to raising voter turnout is to constantly engage the community to make sure the information on file is accurate.

Current Supervisor of ElectionsGlen GilzeanThroughout his career, Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. has been recognized as a courageous leader and advocate for his community.

At the age of 26, Glen began to lift up disadvantaged youth and families by creating an educational non-profit organization that provided youth with a safe and nurturing after-school destination. Over three years, Educate Today blossomed into a multimillion-dollar organization, serving hundreds across Florida.


In 2012, Glen brought his advocacy skills to Step Up for Students, where along with his team, Glen worked tirelessly in Tallahassee to ensure that families had the right to choose the education path that met their needs, guaranteeing the best development for their children.


In 2016, Glen moved onto his next challenge as president and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League, where he began his advocacy work on behalf of all Central Floridians. Saddled with $1.2 million of debt, in under two years, the CFUL became debt-free and re-established its place as a community leader. In recognition of his efforts, Glen was named one of Central Florida’s CEOs of the year by the Orlando Business Journal in 2019.


Recognizing his unyielding commitment to the people of Central Florida, in 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Glen to oversee the rebirth of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Under Glen’s leadership, the special jurisdiction was returned to Floridians, with restored transparency and reborn as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Under his watch, Glen overhauled policies, introduced new benefits, and successfully filled over 70 positions. To strengthen the district’s connection to the community, Glen introduced the Buy Local program, where over $80 million was infused into the community, while saving taxpayers more than $5.3 million in procurement costs. Over 800 vendors registered in the first three months, with approximately 80 percent being new to the district.


Most recently, Gov. DeSantis asked Glen to serve his community once more as the Orange County Supervisor of Elections. In this new role, Glen is responsible to safeguard the sanctity of the electoral process, ensuring that elections are conducted fairly, efficiently and transparently within the county.

Glen has received eight gubernatorial appointments throughout his career:

In 2024, Gov. DeSantis appointed Glen as the Orange County Supervisor of Elections. Previously, Governor DeSantis appointed Glen as the District Administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (2023), to serve on the Re-Open Florida Task Force (2021), the Florida Census Complete Count Committee (2020) and the Florida Commission on Ethics (2019). Previously, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Glen to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (2016), the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Board of Trustees (2013) and to the Pinellas County School Board (2012).


Additionally, Glen is a fellow of the James Madison Institute (JMI) and is a member of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) leadership network. Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from the University of South Florida’s Center of Entrepreneurship.


Moderator: Attorney Nicholas Shanninfounder of the Shannin Law Firm, is a board-certified appellate specialist and government law attorney. He is a past chair of the Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section and has been named to Florida Trend’s Legal Elite Hall of Fame, the “Top 100 Attorneys in Florida” by SuperLawyers, and “AV-Preeminent” by Martindale Hubbell.


Nick is a certified circuit, appellate and federal court mediator with an extensive background in state and federal representation. Nick has represented many local governmental entities and organizations, including service as general counsel for the Orange County Supervisor of Elections since 2010. Nick earned his J.D. with honors from the University of Florida and his B.A. from Rice University. Nick has served as president of the Orange County Bar Association, its Legal Aid Society, and the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.

Sunshine Linda-Marie Grund
 is living a life dedicated to service. She has been blessed with examples of amazing unsung heroes throughout her life. 

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Central Florida as a child who became a ward of the state of Florida with her brother Grant and sister Chrystal. Before aging out of foster care, she enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard. After basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina she returned to the Millenia area where she studied at Valencia with the Road to Independence Scholarship (and helped open the Target). The death of her brother and pregnancy of her sister impacted her military options so she transitioned to serving domestically until her family was stable. She moved her focus to serving through the foster care system on a national and state level. 

After earning her bachelor of science in psychology from the University of Central Florida (07) she worked in program development and administration. Her sister died in 2008 so her focus transitioned again with the adoption of her child. She earned a masters in nonprofit management from the College of Health and Public Affairs at UCF (2009) and supported numerous organizations through consulting. She also taught AP Psychology and Human Anatomy and Physiology while administrating accreditation proceedings at a private school in Winter Park. Donating her time, talent and treasure have been continuous through the years. In 2018 Sunshine became a licensed real estate agent and eventually opened the brokerage she is now managing — Sweet Dreams Realty, PLLC. 

Sunshine’s dream is that candidates are not seen for their campaign accounts, but the contents of their candidacy. If we want better candidates, we need to support a system that is more inclusive. She dreams of the day when our communities are truly educated and empowered. Leading by example continues to be her plan for change. The mission to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, enhance public confidence and encourage citizen participation is one Sunshine truly believes in. 

Orange County has been a place of so much opportunity for Sunshine. It’s where she met her husband of 18 years and where they are raising their four children. They have hope that one day their children and their children’s children will live in a community with equal opportunities, especially from those supervising and running in our elections.

Accordion Widget
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.
Accordion Widget
Make sure you are #VoteReady by visiting our Voter Info pages:

Voting in Orange County

Be sure to submit your Vote by Mail ballot soon as previous requests are no longer active.

June 2024 Hot Topics: SOE Candidate Forum