Riley defends integrity of election process
Right before the polls closed on Election Day, Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, County Judge Gordon Shuler and County Commissioner Bert Boldt were all busy duplicating mail-in ballots and feeding them into the tabulating machines.
But it’s not what you might think.
Riley said that because the mail-in ballots, which represented about 39 percent of the overall vote count, had to be folded before being place in the envelopes, the crease that was created sometimes caused the tabulation machines to spit the ballot back out.
That, plus those times where a coffee stain or other obstruction caused the machine to reject them, 240 ballots had to be duplicated by the three-person canvassing board, and then fed back into the tabulation machine. Included in these were about 20 military and civilian overseas ballots, that were emailed out and faxed back in.
“Several voters used the wrong color ink, we saw pink, orange, teal. We had several different color inks,” said Riley. “Some had gotten wet, but that’s normal.
“The major issue this time was that we printed our own ballots, and folded them the same day. We should have let the ink set a day before folding. It creased that ink and left blank spots on the timing marks,” she said.
Turnout was a robust 81.13 percent, but still below the 84 percent four years ago and the record of 87 percent.
“My only guess is maybe COVID-related issues, of people not wanting to get out and vote,” said Riley. “Our election day turnout was considerably lower than four years ago.”
President Trump carried seven of the eight precincts, from a whopping 83 percent in Eastpoint, to a mere 51 percent in the area of Apalachicola’s “silk stocking” district and just outside the city. Democrat Joe Biden won the Hill and other areas within the city by 59 percent.
In the two local races that were close, Michele Maxwell, the victor in the clerk of courts race, carried only three of the eight precincts, Eastpoint, the Hill and the areas west of Apalachicola. The five others all went to Erin Griffith.
In the race for tax collector, the victor, Rick Watson, took five of the eight precincts, while Danny Gay won three, in Eastpoint, the Hill and the areas to the west of Apalachicola.
For its vote processing software, the county uses ESS, and not Dominion, which has come under fire from the Trump campaign for allegations that it manipulated large numbers of votes in battleground states. The Dominion allegations have not been upheld in courts of law.
“ESS is state certified,” said Riley. “Since before I started as supervisor, I have always been happy with them. They provide great support.
“I don’t know anything about the Dominion product, but they are state certified, by the same process used in Florida,” she said.
“I would find it very hard to imagine how they could be compromised, knowing the level of certification and testing they’re put through,” Riley said.
The supervisor, who was elected without party affiliation, said she has concerns about the Trump campaign’s efforts to allege voting irregularities.
“It causes distrust with the public with the elections process,” she said. “I know voter fraud is screamed every election. There’s never really been widespread voter fraud that’s been proven or brought to light.
“I think for the most part it’s a cry-wolf tactic to cause mistrust and distrust in the process that has basically proven to be effective,” Riley said. “I can’t speak for any other state but I know for the state of Florida there are protections in place.
“In the state of Florida I have confidence in the security and integrity of our election process. I know the work that’s been put in over the last year for cybersecurity and physical security, with the training we received. I’m confident that Florida has done an excellent job with securing our election process,” she said.
“I can’t imagine any supervisor of elections, regardless of party affiliation, who would risk the integrity of the office by not following the letter of the law and state and rules in place to the best of their ability,” Riley said. “Nobody wants to be in the spotlight for doing something wrong.”