Crowded field in Supervisor of Elections race
Four candidates are challenging incumbent Sharon Harrington in the Aug. 30 non-partisan primary for the office of Supervisor of Elections.
Harrington has held the office of Supervisor of Elections in Lee County since being appointed to fill the unexpired term of former supervisor Philinda Young in January 2004, taking office officially on Feb. 16. She was first elected in 2004 and reelected in 2008 and 2012.
Her challengers are Tommy Doyle, James “Hef” Hefren, Carmen Salome and Dan Sinclair. If one of the candidates does not receive a majority of all votes cast in the primary, the top two vote-getters will run-off in the November General Election.
Early voting for the primary will be Aug. 20-27, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
All Lee County voters, regardless of party affliation, can vote in this race.
* Tommy Doyle, 64, is a Fort Myers native and third generation owner of Flint & Doyle Structural Moving. Doyle said he is running for election because he is disappointed in what he says is the bad reputation that Lee County has earned in recent elections.
“If elected, I will provide better election preparation and improve the budget process, procurement process and outreach,” said Doyle. “Ihave run a business for 30 years and I have an accounting degree. I believe the leadership skills instilled in me in the military qualifies me to manage the elections office because it must be run as a business.”
Doyle maintains that being a successful businessman for 30 years and his reputation for hard work qualifies him to be Supervisor of Elections.
“Supervisor of Elections is responsible for managing the staff of 38 people to give the voters an opportunity to vote and to follow the state laws with regard to registering voters, removing those who die or move away off the rolls, to qualify the candidates and to educate the public,” Doyle said.
* Sharon Harrington has been in public service for 27 years, including the last 12 as Supervisor of Elections.
“I am running for re-election because I love what I do,” she said. “The deep passion I have for the voters of Lee County can only be gained by being a public servant. I have extensive training in accounting, management and I am the only candidate with any elections administration training and am a certified Supervisor of Elections. I believe that on-the-job experience is the best training anyone can have.”
Harrington said she would like to get the legislature to change the law to allow municipalities the option to hold elections with all mail balloting. That way everyone gets a ballot, active and inactive, and would cost less. The return on investment, she believes, will be greater because of increased participation.
“We are constantly looking for ways to make the registration and voting process easier and I will continue to work toward that goal for every election,” she said.
* James “Hef” Hefren, 58, is a 32-year employee of American Airlines who has lived in Lee County for 12 years. He holds a degree in political science from Miami University.
“I’m running because it started in 2012 when I waited in line for two hours to vote,” said Hefren. “A friend took his 18-year-old son to vote for the first time and waited more than three hours. His son said he would never do that again. So I looked into the policy and procedures of the office and found it disturbing.”
He said if elected he first would address the transparency of the office, use competitive bidding and sign vendors to contracts and hold them responsible.
“If you want to see the budget the Board of Elections has made it almost impossible to find,” said Hefren. “We are approaching 70 percent of people voting by mail or early voting and that is not being offset by a reduction of the precincts or staffing. That costs money.”
Hefren thinks no experience translates to the Supervisor of Elections position, but he has spent the last 18 months researching the position and educating himself in the role and function of the office.
“I have held a number of supervisory positions with the airlines, so a lot of logistics and preplanning goes into it in order to operate efficiently,” said Hefren. “You have to adapt to adversity quickly and with common sense. I think the Board of Elections has become complacent. There needs to be a zero based budget so that you start fresh at zero every year, not just build on where it’s at.”
Hefren pledges to bring better customer service, personal and fiscal responsibility, and keep the budget in control according to the changes in the way people are voting.
* Carmen Salome, 57, has lived in Cape Coral for 12 years and is retired from a variety of government service jobs.
“I truly care for this community so I am coming with a heart of service,” said Salome. “I wanted to learn about the community I live in through joining many citizen committees and to help any way I can.”
She said she wants to make the Supervisor of Elections a stronger presence in the community.
“I want to break the myths and communicate to the people how to vote and the importance of voting, all along and not just before an election,” Salome said. “We need to better use the technology and social media and upgrade the website. I believe our right to vote should never be a burden, an inconvenience or a problem and too often in Lee County it seems to have been.”
Salome brings 17 years of local government experience to the run for office. She has worked local government “grunt jobs” in Rochester, N.Y., and Lee County.
“I have been the person on the other end of the phone helping people with issues,” she said. “I bring a problem solving perspective, experience as a budget analyst, large budgets, strong community relationships and a masters degree in management.”
Salome said she offers a fresh leadership perspective that puts voters first along with her work ethic of organization, commitment, management and budgeting skills.
“The No. 1 responsibility of the Supervisor of Elections is the statute that governs the position; see to it that all eligible voters have a ballot; be streamlined and as efficient as possible,” Salome said. “Government is service, not a business. We have to be judicious with taxpayer dollars.”
* Dan Sinclair, 49, has lived in Fort Myers for 22 years. Canadian born, Sinclair spent 20 years obtaining his U.S. citizenship, a time period he said was difficult not being able to vote.
“The main reason I’m running is once I got my citizenship 2011, I got in line at 7 a.m. and waited two hours in the heat (2012),” Sinclair said. “What a mess, but it got my attention. No information or sample ballots were given voters waiting in line, it was an eight-page ballot with one scanner. They were completely unprepared.”
The real estate broker and president of a financial company wants to change the culture that he says exists in the supervisor’s office.
“Right now it’s OK to make mistakes, so there should be more accountability and a need to take ownership of problems by not sweeping them under the rug,” Sinclair said. “A lot of money was spent on outdated purchases and better customer service is needed. It needs to be run like a business.”
Sinclair maintains his track record of starting and running successful businesses for the last 31 years more than qualifies him to hold this office.
“I also have been in IT (Information Technology) for 34 years,” Sinclair said. “I have worked with non-profits in Lee County get started like Young Professionals. Have been building relationships in Lee County for 20 years and helping businesses protect themselves from cyber attacks.”
If elected, he plans to improve the voter experience, provide a far better experience for voters, use better purchasing, better accuracy, integrity and accountability practices.
“The office needs a strong IT department to get up to speed and I’m the only candidate who understands that aspect,” he said.