Local News

Ready for the election showdown

— On Friday, Penny Ogg will test the voting machines on Kenilworth Boulevard and her office in the County Government Center.

Although that sounds like the first step to early voting on Aug. 16-23 and the Aug. 26 primary election, the supervisor of elections has actually been preparing since last year.

“We did candidate training in November, and we held the last candidate workshop in April,” said Ogg, who was elected in November 2012.

“We really started six months prior to this, setting up training schedules,” said Assistant Supervisor Karen Kensinger. “We are swamped with everything happening. Everyone is very, very busy.”

With five full-timers, the elections office is Highlands County government’s smallest. Debbie Schoonover and Giselle Acevedo have been doing voter maintenance: address changes, notices to felons about voter eligibility, and removing deceased voters from the roll of 60,326 registered voters.

They also mailed 3,409 absentee ballots. “And they’ll handle them when they come back, and Debbie handles any over-the-counter requests,” Ogg said.

Three precincts were changed in February, so Schoonover and Acevedo mailed notices to 9,000 voters in Venus, southwest Sebring and Avon Park. Lisa McClelland takes care of the budget, pays the bills, writes grants and handles overflow at the front counter.

Redrawn maps were finalized in May and approved by the county commissioners in June.

“That was a big undertaking for this election,” Ogg said.

For election days only, 250 workers are hired and trained. “Those are wonderful people who give so much of themselves so we can all vote,” Ogg said.

Although poll workers earn set fees — usually $150 each, since they are required to arrive at 6 a.m. on Election Day and don’t leave until an hour after the polls close at 7 p.m., Ogg said poll workers average not much more than minimum wage.

And for the eight days of early voting, more than a dozen election workers keep the polls open for eight hours.

“We have some people who have been here many, many years,” Ogg said, “and we have a few coming on for the first time. We are always looking for good poll workers.”

Roy Wright, a seasonal worker, tests and maintains the 55 voting machines long before the Aug. 8 event, which is open to the public, Kensinger said. Machines are cleaned, ballots are fed through, and logs are kept. Each machine must produce the pre-determined number of votes for Candidates X and Y, for instance.

In the real election, as each citizen votes, the electronic system checks off his or her name in a central computer which monitors the countywide results. If someone votes twice, the main computer will know within seconds.

“We’ve never had that situation,” Ogg said. A few have been confused about whether they voted absentee and at the poll in the same election. “But I don’t feel anyone has purposely tried to thwart the system.”

In Highlands County, the only contested races are for school board. In the circuit, only one judge seat is open, and that’s for two Polk County candidates. Two unknown Democrats are challenging each other for the right to run against incumbent Pam Bondi.

In the gubernatorial election, front running Republican incumbent Rick Scott has two unknown challengers, and former incumbent Charlie Crist has been challenged by Sen. Nan Rich, but she hasn’t raised enough money to gain an edge.

Therefore, some county supervisors are predicting low turnouts.

“We’ve only sent out 3,409 absentee ballots, and only 500 have come back so far. That’s low,” Ogg said.



To view Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan sample ballots for the Aug. 26 primary election, go to www.votehighlands.com/

Election dates

Aug. 8, 2 p.m., logic and accuracy test of voting machines, 4500 Kenilworth Blvd.

Aug. 16-23, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., early voting in Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid

Aug. 26, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., primary election at all polling places.

More info: 402-6055 or www.votehighlands.com/

  • In Precinct 14, Venus residents will cast ballots at United Methodist Church.

  • In Precinct 15, the Restoration Center is no longer available, so the northernmost half of 15 and 15S will vote at Bible Fellowship Church, 3750 Hammock Road. The southernmost portion of 15 has become new precinct 21, which will vote at First Baptist Church of Lake Josephine, 111 Lake Josephine Drive.

  • In old Precinct 21, voters will move from South Florida State College to the tax collector’s branch office, 116 E. Main.