Extensive interview with Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus

Julie Marcus is the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections (SOE). In an effort to educate voters about what the job of an SOE entails and election integrity in general, we asked Marcus for a long-form interview, which she agreed to during this busy election season.

We asked Julie Marcus a dozen questions. Without further ado, here are our questions along with her answers.

Julie Marcus

Q-1: The highest voter turnout in Pinellas County a general election since 1960 was 81.78% in 1968. Based on the data to date, do you expect the voter turnout in the general election to set a record? 
A-1: In 2016, we had 77% voter turnout. Elections administrators always want to exceed voter turnout of previous elections, as high voter turnout equals a healthy representative democracy.

Q-2: Full-time elections staff work longer hours during election season. Can you elaborate briefly on what that means in practice?
Answer: When we begin the process of assembling mail ballots to be mailed by the statutory deadlines, you could say that the hours of election mode have begun. Between this point and through the certification of final election results our staff of 44 full-time employees is responsible for a tremendous work load that requires longer hours. For example, just during early voting alone, employees start their day at 6 a.m. and finish up around 10 p.m.

Q-3: “Election integrity” (whatever that term means) appears to be a hotter topic than since the 2000 general election, and many voters are unclear on what the role of an SOE is in insuring that “integrity”.
Answer: Florida law provides for a good balance between voter access and maintaining the integrity of the electoral process, and neither at the expense of the other. Maintaining the integrity of the election is comprehensive and is carried out over many platforms. Ensuring a strong physical and cybersecurity posture, keeping the voter rolls current and accurate, having reconciliation, auditing and chain-of-custody procedures, training poll workers and election workers on the requirements of the law, and being transparent are just a few examples of what is done to protect the process and preserve voters’ confidence in their representative democracy.

Q-4: If a person comes to the SOE office to register to vote using state form DS-DE 39, do they have to provide the exact same information that they have to provide when registering on the state website?
Answer: Florida Statute 97.0525, requires that the online voter registration application include the information required for the uniform statewide voter registration application (DS-DE 39).

Q-5: The state sets the requirements for registering to vote in Florida. Does an SOE have any discretion is waiving or adding requirements?
Answer: Supervisors of Elections must follow the requirements outlined in Chapters 97 and 98 of the Florida Election Code.

Q-6: In order to receive a MIB (Mail-In Ballot), some voters have to fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). This form uses the term “absentee ballot,” but is it the same as what we now in Florida call a MIB?
Answer: The Florida Legislature changed the term “absentee” to “vote-by-mail.” However, the Federal Post Card Application is a federal document provided by the Federal Voting Assistance Program for voting assistance for Service members, their families and overseas citizens. For our purposes of processing any mail ballot request from any registered voter, the terms “absentee” and “vote-by-mail” are the same.

Q-7: Does SOE, the state or the federal government specify what information is collected in order to register to vote absentee?
Answer: Florida law [Florida Statute 101.62] requires a registered voter to request a vote-by-mail ballot. This request is good for all elections through the end of the calendar year of the second ensuing regularly scheduled general election. Voters who choose to vote-by-mail can simply check the box on their mail ballot return envelope that says “I would like to keep voting by mail.” By doing this, voters will renew their mail ballot request. All required information and the procedure for requesting a mail ballot is provided for in Florida Statute 101.62.

Q-8: Does SOE have any role in verifying citizenship, felony record, or other things that may disqualify the person from voting?
Answer: Eligibility list maintenance procedures are provided for in F.S. 98.075.

Q-9: Does SOE or the state remove people from the voter rolls? Briefly, what laws or rules govern that process?
Answer: Pursuant to Florida Statute 98.075(7)5. “If the supervisor determines that the registered voter is ineligible, the supervisor shall remove the voter’s name from the statewide voter registration system and notify the registered voter of the supervisor’s determination and action.”

Q-10: Based on your extensive experience, are you confident that the voter roll in Pinellas County is “clean” enough that the outcome of the election will not be determined by voters who falsely certified swore or affirmed that “qualified to register as an elector under the Constitution and laws of the State of Florida, and that all information provided in this application is true.” (this is the text on the state voter registration form DS-DE 39).
Answer: Pinellas County conducts both address and eligibility list maintenance in accordance with Florida law. In addition, pursuant to F.S. 104.011(1), “A person who willfully swears or affirms falsely to any oath or affirmation, or willfully procures another person to swear or affirm falsely to an oath or affirmation, in connection with or arising out of voting or elections commits a felony of the third degree…”

Q-11: What does an SOE do, or what is an SOE dutybound to do, when they find such ineligible voters who fraudulently made their way on to the voter roll?
Answer: If the Supervisor of Elections has evidence/information that an applicant and/or voter may have violated Florida law, that evidence/information would be provided to the State Attorney.

Q-12: Do you have any other edifying comments for publication?
Answer: For official election information, please visit VotePinellas.com or call (727) 464-VOTE (8683).

[END OF INTERVIEW]

Thus is clear that SOEs have very little discretion in how their carry out their jobs. Most of their work in controlled by federal and state law, and regulations that interpret those laws. The job of an SOE is to adhere to said law and regulations, and if they don’t, they risk lawsuits, losing those lawsuits and a great expense to the taxpayers.

One final note: yes, we checked. Julie Marcus is a registered voter in Pinellas County and has been so since 1996 when she was a college student. She graduated from USF in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

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