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County voting sets blistering pace

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

If all the balloting throughout the country runs as smoothly as it is going in Franklin County, this most heralded presidential election is going to turn out just fine.

“The voter turnout is great,” said Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, in what may be the understatement of the year. “I would say we’re probably double what we are normally.”

In fact, as of Wednesday afternoon, over half of the county’s 8,484 eligible voters had voted, split about evenly between the two parties, and about even between those who have mailed their ballots in and those who went to the supervisor of elections office, or the Carrabelle annex, and voted there early.

With mail-in ballots, Riley said the county usually has a total of about 1,500 or 1600 returned. So far, they have received close to 2,300, mostly in the drop-off boxes, with about twice as many of them coming in that way.

Only three of the mail-ins posed any problems. In those cases, the voters hadn’t signed the back, and they were notified and they rectified the situation.

Riley said presidential elections usually run in the low 80 percent ranges. She predicted this year turnout would be closer to 90 percent.

Heather Riley

Early voting closes Saturday at 5:30 p.m., but vote by mail ballots can be secured up to and including Election Day. The only stipulation is they must be back in the elections office by 7 p.m. Tuesday. Only overseas and military ballots are giving a longer time to come in, which is up to 10 additional days.

Those who plan to vote Tuesday can come in as early as 7 a.m.. There will be about 45 pollworkers on duty, all masked up and sanitized, Voters are encouraged, but not required, to adhere to CDC guidelines when they vote.

“I cannot make you wear a mask. We have signs everywhere telling you the recommendations but we can’t disenfranchise you from voting,” Riley said. “On Tuesday I don’t expect lines.”

The tallies, including those of mail-ins, will be overseen by the canvassing board made up of Riley, County Commissioner Bert Boldt and County Judge Gordon Shuler.

Riley said both parties have taken advantage of having pollwatchers observe the early voting process at both locations and there have been virtually no problems reported.

With the exception of a few hermits deep underground in a very obscure cave somewhere, everyone knows Tuesday’s presidential election will decide whether Republican incumbent Donald Trump is given another four-year term, together with Vice President Mike Pence, or whether the next president of the United States is Democrat Joe Biden, a former vice president, and running mate Kamala Harris.

In the other federal election, if you wish to vote write-in against Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, you may, but bear in mind it is even more certain than a foregone conclusion, Dunn will be returning to Congress for another two-year term.

Almost, but a tiny bit less likely to win a full two-year term, is Republican State Rep. Jason Shoaf, who is facing Taymour Khan, a little-known Democratic opponent.

The highly contested election to replace Democrat Bill Montford, who is retiring as District 2 Florida state senator, is between Tallahassee attorney Loranne Ausley, who has served for 12 years in the Florida House, and Republican first time candidate Marva Preston, from Crawfordville.

Ausley is cut from the same cloth as Montford, a centrist Panhandle Democrat, experienced in navigating Tallahassee amidst a legislature dominated by members of the opposing party. Preston is the girl next door, active in her Wakulla community, with a career in law enforcement, and an active ministry, who campaigns with her husband right alongside.

At a recent luncheon of Franklin County Republicans, Preston offered her campaign pitch in broad national strokes, underscoring that as 27-year veteran of law enforcement, she stood solidly with the preservation of order and safety on America’s streets. Justice for all, support of small businesses and working families, advocating for a clean environment and easier access to health care – all themes appealing to voters’ highest and best values.

On the far less high-minded side has been a barrage of attacks against Ausley from Republicans working on behalf of securing GOP officeholders in the Florida Senate. This advertising effort has hammered the theme that Ausley’s campaign profited by taking Payroll Protection Program money, earmarked for small businesses. A dazzling diamond toe ring on a pair of feet crossed leisurely in a hammock, with a headline that proclaims “she’s soaking it up at her family’s private island home,” or another mailer that features a black-and-white photo of Ausley grinning behind a Photoshopped swirl of Benjamins raining down, gives a more detailed picture of the substance of this aspect of the campaign.

On the county level, two longtime staffers in the clerk of courts’ office, Erin Hale Griffith, 39, of St. George Island, and Suzanne Michele Maxwell, 47, of Apalachicola, are squaring off to replace the retiring Marcia Johnson.

For sheriff, Republican incumbent A.J. ‘Tony’ Smith, 60, of Apalachicola, is up against Democratic challenger Carlton Louis Whaley, 51, of Carrabelle.

For tax collector, incumbent Republican Rick Watson, 73, of St. George Island, is seeking a full four-year term, after being elected in 2018 to complete the term of his predecessor, the late Jimmy Harris.

He is being challenged by Danny W. Gay, 49, of Apalachicola, who is running without party affiliation. A registered Republican, Gay decided to run that way in the general election after an 11th hour move to introduce a third candidate, and therefore close what would have been an open Republican primary in August, limited only to the GOP.

That little-known candidate who briefly entered the race quickly dropped out, and the stage was set for the two men to battle it out in the general election, with all voters able to weigh in..

In the race for superintendent, incumbent Democrat Traci Moses Yoder, 42, of Apalachicola, faces Republican challenger Steve Lanier, 62, of Eastpont.

In District 5, incumbent William Massey, 60, this year is running without party affiliation in a bid for a third term. In 2012 he was first elected as a Democrat, and in 2016 he was returned to office without opposition.

He is squaring off against Republican challenger Madeline Nevarez, 54, of Carrabelle, and Jessica Varnes Ward, 41, of Eastpoint, who is running without party affiliation.

In District 3 in Apalachicola, Democratic incumbent Noah Lockley, Jr., 69, is being challenged by Brett Philip Gormley, 41, who is running without party affiliation.