Who Certifies the Votes After City Election?
City Charter Differs from Florida Election Law
Among the three people who will certify the votes in the March 12 election is Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, a very public supporter of the candidacy of Commissioner Peter Weldon. In her introductory speech at Weldon’s campaign kickoff party, Sprinkel stated, “It is not important that we re-elect Pete Weldon, it’s imperative that we re-elect Pete Weldon.”
The City Commission named Sprinkel, along with Commissioner Greg Seidel and City Clerk Cindy Bonham to the three-member Canvassing Board at its Feb. 11 meeting. The board will oversee the certification of the March 12 election and, if necessary, an April 9 runoff.
Canvassing Board Decisions Can Be Critical in Close Race
In a very close election, the Canvassing Board can determine the outcome. Think back to the 2000 presidential race and the ‘hanging chads,’ or the more recent Florida Senate race in which there were numerous recounts – all the result of Canvassing Board decisions.
Who Can Serve?
Commissioner Peter Weldon is ineligible to serve on the Cavassing Board, as he is a candidate with opposition. Mayor Steve Leary stated he was “out,” indicating he would not serve, but offering no explanation. According to the City Attorney and the City Manager, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper could have been appointed to the March 12 Canvassing Board, even though she is unavailable April 9, should there be a runoff, but Commissioners chose Sprinkel instead.
Although Florida Statutes disqualify from canvassing boards anyone who has campaigned for one of the candidates, those rules don’t apply to the city, said City Attorney Kurt Ardaman and City Clerk Cindy Bonham, who serves as Winter Park’s Supervisor of Elections. The city has its own rules, which are spelled out in its charter, they said.
Asked about her thoughts on participating in the Canvassing Board, Commissioner Sprinkel replied, “I was trained with the League of Women Voters to work on elections. . . . The residents and voters of Winter Park have no reason to question my honesty. I am a great proponent of the democratic process, and do not question the democratic process.”
How Does State Define ‘Active Participant’ in a Campaign?
Florida statutes governing the selection of State and County Canvassing Boards disqualify any Canvassing Board member “. . .who is also an active participant in the campaign or candidacy of any candidate with opposition in the election being canvassed.”
“Active participation” is described as, “Being a member of an election or re-election committee for a candidate, public endorsement with or without financial support of a candidate; holding campaign signs, wearing a campaign tee-shirt, or other public display of support for a candidate; signing an endorsement card for a candidate; attending a candidate’s campaign fundraiser. . . .”
Municipalities Exempt from State & County Laws
The Florida Statute does not require municipalities to follow suit. The Winter Park City Charter is silent on the issue of a Canvassing Board member’s “active participation” and does not disqualify members for actively supporting a candidate.
Winter Park City Charter
According to the Winter Park City Charter, “No commissioner or mayor shall participate in the canvassing of the returns of an election for which said commissioner or mayor is a candidate or subject to recall. For any disqualified city commissioner or mayor, the city clerk shall act as the alternate canvassing board member.”
WP Supervises Its Own Elections – Orange County is a Contractor
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said that while his office acts as a contractor to the City of Winter Park for the March 12 election, it does not supervise the election. As a contractor to Winter Park, Orange County rents the voting machines to the City, works with the City to design the ballot, and mails out, collects and tabulates Vote by Mail ballots.
The Winter Park City Clerk acts as the Supervisor of Elections for the City, and she works with the City Attorney to determine the duties and composition of the City’s Canvassing Board.
Vote March 12
Three candidates are on the ballot in the March 12 election: Weldon, who is running for his second term, Todd Weaver, who served on County and City Lakes and Waterways Boards, and Barbara Chandler, Manager of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center.