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Campaigns ramping up ahead of qualifying

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

Candidate qualifying remains two months away and voting another two months into the future, but the Supervisor of Elections office is already busy.

While practicing social distancing, just one person in the office during operating hours, the office is already filling up the fall ballot for local races.

The deadline for a candidate to file by petition, the predominant method in local elections, is May 11.

“Things are shaping up,” said Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon.

Three races have already drawn multiple candidates, and formal qualifying does not begin until June.

Campaign signs dot many thoroughfares across the county.

Among constitutional officers, all of which are up for re-election, Sheriff Mike Harrison is facing a challenge from Rhett Butler.

Both are Republicans and if the ballot remained the same the race would be decided in the August primary.

Three seats on the Board of County Commissioners are in play this year, the seats for Districts 1, 3 and 5.

In Districts 1 and 5, incumbent Commissioners David Rich and Phil McCroan, respectively, both Republicans have filed and thus far attracted no opposition.

In District 3, incumbent Commissioner Jimmy Rogers has yet to indicate his intent to stand for re-election or not, but two challengers, both Republicans, have filed.

Patrick Farrell and Joan Lovelace are both seeking the seat in a race that could be decided in August.

The two non-partisan School Board campaigns are currently polar opposites.

In District 3, current board Chair Cindy Belin has announced her intent to seek re-election and thus far does not have opposition.

However, there are five candidates seeking the District 4 seat, unoccupied the past year since the passing of Billy Quinn, Jr.

Those candidates, in alphabetical order, are Thomas Buttram, Deborah Crosby, Marvin Davis, Charles Gathers and Amy Rogers.

As other local government officials have stated in recent weeks, Hanlon would be among those who would attest to the value of having a disaster as rehearsal.

“God knows, none of us would want to experience any of that again in our lifetime, but (surviving Hurricane Michael) does put us in good stead for holding an election during a pandemic,” Hanlon said.

Under previous executive orders, Gulf and Bay are permitted to reduce or alter polling sites.

Following the hurricane, Hanlon put in place two “supercenters” for voting, his office on Long Ave. in Port St. Joe and the Wewahitchka Public Library, and expanded the time for early voting.

That, he added, is similar to what other counties are now petitioning the state for permission to undertake.

“We have it for a different reason than other counties want it, but it puts us in a good place for voting during a pandemic,” Hanlon said.

From the aspect of marshaling resources, from poll workers to protective equipment, the “supercenter” concept is a fit for voting during COVID, Hanlon said.

In other concessions to the pandemic, the state is also allowing emailed candidate qualification paperwork and eliminated the requirement on qualifying petitions that only original signatures counted; a scanned and emailed signature will suffice, Hanlon said.

The 2020 ballot will be full, with the presidential race at the top of the ballot.