Supervisor of elections candidates participate in forum

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Farm Bureau, Okeechobee County Republican Party, Okeechobee County Democratic Party and the Economic Council of Okeechobee sponsored a virtual forum with candidates for local office on July 16. While the event was held in the Okeechobee Freshman Campus auditorium, the audience watched online.

Republican candidates for supervisor of elections at the forum were Melissa Arnold, Faith Nielson and Rodney Rucks.

The first question for supervisor candidates was about the security of vote by mail ballots.

“Vote by mail is a very safe way to vote and has been for some time,” said Nielson. “During COVID-19, our voters need a choice that will allow them to feel comfortable and vote from home.” She said vote by mail ballots are tracked from the time the Supervisor of Elections Office receives a request. “It is tracked when it is sent out in the mail. It is tracked when it comes back in the mail,” she explained. “We check every signature that comes into the office,” she said. After they are checked, the ballots are kept safe in a vault.

“Not only for COVID-19 is vote by mail important but also with our active duty military and for college students who are away, that is the way that they vote,” Rucks said. He said for those who have the COVID-19 virus and for those whose health concerns mean they cannot leave the house, the vote by mail option is important. He said if you plan to vote by mail, it is important to update your signature regularly because signatures must be verified.

“Security is very important to me,” said Arnold. She said Florida Statutes require vote by mail security measures. The ballots are logged and kept in a secure area. Ballots are opened by a group or team. She said each of Florida’s 67 counties is audited in regard to their chain of custody procedures. “We strive for security and we will follow statute to get it done,” she said.

The candidates were also asked how they would increase voter registration and turnout.

Rucks said he would target the areas of the county with poor voter turnout to increase voter registration in those areas. “I would visit community events to try to get registered voters and to educate.” He said he would also visit summer camps, schools and the college for voter education.

“Marketing is always frequency and reach,” said Arnold. “Be everywhere. Be at the fairs and festivals. This is something I have done already as a candidate, just basically be out there, we need involvement, we need activity. We need to be visible in the community. We need to be in the library, the schools, Main Street, the chamber of commerce, all of these places. As we are visible, people will feel they need to be visible and vote.”

“The supervisor’s office does need to be much more involved in the community and at every event,” said Nielson. She said some churches have asked the election’s office for voter registration drives. “We do not utilize nearly enough volunteers to utilize those events,” she said. She said they also need to work with third party voter organizations in a more cooperative way to get more voter registrations, which will increase voter turnout.

The three Republican candidates for Okeechobee County will be on the Republican ballot in the primary election in August. This will be a closed primary. In the general election, the winner of the Republican primary will face Lisa Rodriguez and Donna Howard, who both filed as No Party Affiliation (NPA) candidates.

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