Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections candidates butt heads on FL voter law

09/21/12 Janelle Irwin
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Florida Republican Representative Rich Glorioso is taking on political newcomer Craig Latimer in the race for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. They spoke today at the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa. Latimer lacks his opponent’s experience as an elected official, but has been the office’s chief of staff since 2009.

Glorioso will be term limited out of office this November and he’s hoping to slide into a new role as Hillsborough County’s head of elections. Glorioso said his Vietnam-era service in the military drew him to the job.

“To me, that ballot is precious and I want to make sure that everybody that’s eligible to vote is registered and everybody who wants to vote has an easy, convenient way to vote.”

But his opponent, Craig Latimer, already works in the elections office. He started shortly after mismanagement by former Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson. A 2009 audit suggested that Johnson broke state law by overspending his budget and left office owing a vendor more than $2 million. Latimer said he’s been an integral part of turning around a broken system.

“$2.6 million budget deficit, there was 800 ballots found two weeks after we got there from the November election that had never been counted. It had taken the previous administration three days to count the ballots, to announce the winners.”

Glorioso argues that Latimer’s experience in the Supervisor of Elections office doesn’t mean he’s fit for the job of running it.

“I’ve been a staff and I’ve been a leader, a commander – two different things. I’ve seen a lot of good staff officers fail as a leader. I’ve already proven both, that I have the leadership ability to do it.”

The two candidates differ on a lot of issues. Glorioso supported changes to Florida’s voter laws that made it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to hold voter registration drives. That part of the law was struck down by a judge last month. The same legislation also reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. Glorioso defends the legislation, saying that now voters have more hours to vote each day even if there are fewer days. He also agrees with Governor Rick Scott’s push to purge potential ineligible voters from the rolls.

“I’m very, very concerned that they have not been pro-active enough in doing the voting rolls. When you have dead people, felons and non-citizens on the rolls there’s something wrong. And what have they been doing in the off years? They’re supposed to be working on the rolls during the off years – the odd number years when there’s no major election. These things should have been done.”

Supporters of voting law changes and the voter purge argue it’s to rain in voter fraud. Glorioso’s opponent Craig Latimer disagrees.

“House Bill 1355, which my opponent was hugely involved in, voted and supported and still continues to support today, was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist.”

The ability for voters to get to the polls is a hot topic this elections cycle where Florida is expected to be a major swing state in the presidential race. One Tiger Bay member called Glorioso out for being a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. It’s a conservative think tank that opponents say drafts legislation behind closed doors. Glorioso defended his involvement in ALEC by saying he’s also been involved with a more liberal group called the National Council of State Legislators.

“If you only get one side of the story, you make a terrible, terrible decision. You have to understand where they’re coming from. I spent more time at NCSL (National Council of State Legislators) and ALEC taking notes and trying to compare things like the internet tax. Seems easy – let’s just tax everything on the internet that people buy on the internet. It’s not that simple because each state – one state beef jerky is a food, the next state it’s a candy. The tax rates are different. It’s more complicated and when I listened to both sides, I kind of had a better understanding of what the issue was and how to deal with it.”

Glorioso drew attention to a mix up in the Supervisor of Election’s office he said was almost criminal.

“They sent out 166 ballots and left one of the races completely off during the primary election and they only found out because the candidate who was running got his absentee ballot and said ‘my name and race isn’t even on this.’”

Latimer admitted there was a mistake made, but he said it wasn’t nearly as bad as his opponent makes it seem.

“In the primary election, there was 1,058 ballot styles and we in fact pointed at one of those wrong and we missed 160 voters. Immediately upon finding it we re-issued the ballots, contacted both the candidates in the race, kept them appraised and we solved the problem.”

Most of the 35 people at the Tiger Bay luncheon, including Tampa attorney Steve Allen, seemed to favor Latimer.

“I guess you might say, really, which one is the more qualified and it would seemingly be Mr. Latimer initially because he’s been there essentially running the place for the last three or four years.”

Tiger Bay board member Tom Aderhold favors Latimer too. He said he likes Glorioso, but doesn’t think he has the ability to keep politics out of the Supervisor of Elections office.

“I’m afraid though, he has been drawn too far into party ideology without taking a breath to look around and see the consequences of it.”

The winner in this race will replace the current Supervisor of Elections, Earl Lennard. Latimer, a former Hillsborough County Sheriff’s major, has several endorsements from police organizations and from the Tampa Tribune. A page on Glorioso’s campaign website doesn’t list any endorsements.

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