COVID-19 changes the election season

COVID-19 changes the election season

By publisher Gerry Mulligan, as published in the Citrus County Chronicle July 12, 2020:

For the last six decades the Chronicle has always sponsored a political forum at the county auditorium in Inverness.

At times, more than 1,000 residents would pack the fairgrounds to hear all of the primary candidates answer questions and explain their positions.

Because of COVID-19, the public forum will not take place in 2020. While we are disappointed, we have planned the next best thing.

Earlier this week Chronicle reporters and editors spent the day interviewing all of the candidates who will appear on the Aug. 18 primary ballot. We conducted the interviews at the Citrus County Art League auditorium in Citrus Hills and had the good folks from Digital Hound Media record the event.

Those recorded interviews are now being made available at the Chronicle website (Chronicleonline.com) and via our political newsletter. (Free signup at Chronicleonline.com Election 2020). Each day a different race will be promoted via Facebook so that the 29,217 followers have access to what the candidates have said.

And of course, our Chronicle reporters were in attendance at the interviews and those news stories are publishing over the week.

—COVID-19 is messing with our form of government in Citrus County. We believe in “retail politics” where candidates have to go face-to-face with the voters at forums, shopping centers, civic meetings, churches and at the front door. Just about every civic club, veteran’s group, business organization and environmental group held its own event in past years.

For the most part, that is not happening this year because of social distancing rules.

In 2020 candidates are spending a lot more time at home trying to figure out how to get their message out to voters. Without question, the pandemic restrictions give incumbents a leg up because they already have name recognition.

It also puts an extra burden on you — the voter — to do your homework and make sure you are making the selection that lines up with your beliefs. There is a lot of rhetoric out there about protecting our form of government. Your role is to work extra hard to be an informed citizen at election time.

No one ever promised that democracy was going to be easy.

—During the primary, voters will be asked to select candidates for school superintendent, school board, two county commission seats, sheriff, property appraiser, elections supervisor and a judge. It’s a lot of information to digest for voters and we hope our presentation in the combined digital/print format will make things easier.

—Our county commission races are some of the most contentious on the ballot. In the District 5 seat, incumbent Brian Coleman decided to retire. That’s too bad, because Coleman, a retired sheriff’s deputy, has been doing a really good job.

Two candidates have qualified in that race – Jimmie T. Smith and Holly Davis. Smith was the commissioner from District 3, but he decided to jump to District 5 because there was less competition.

In the District 3 race, there are six GOP candidates in the race. No Democrat has qualified for the November general election for commission and that means the winner of the Aug. 18 primary will be the next commissioner.

The candidates in District 3 are Thomas Joseph Corkery, Ruthie Davis Schlabach, Mark S. Hammer, Angel Lewis, Luis Marin and Edwin Lewis Roberts.

—The only primary election we were unable to document during the digital forum was for the Supervisor of Elections. Susan Gill, the longtime supervisor of elections, is retiring at the end of this term. Her chief office supervisor, Maureen ‘Mo’ Baird has qualified to run and she is being challenged by former county commissioner Scott Adams.

The supervisor candidates were invited to participate in the Chronicle forum, but Adams said he had a conflict and could not attend. We have selected another date and will attempt to do a separate interview with these two candidates.

We will let you know how that works out.

—Early voting has been scheduled at four locations around the county from Aug. 7 to 15. For those who don’t want to participate on election day, the early voting is the most convenient. There are almost never lines or waiting.

—Voting by mail starts Monday, July 20. The mail voting option has somehow become a political football on the national level, but it’s not controversial on the local level. In the March presidential primary, 51% of the 31,045 citizens who participated in the contest voted by mail. Another 18% participated in early voting and only 31% showed up on election day to vote.

Very few lines on election day when 69% of the voters have already participated. The vote-by-mail option is the most popular in Citrus County.

—I hope the election information is helpful. This is the first time we’ve tried it this way and there have been a few bumps in the process. If you have questions or suggestions, let me know.

Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at gmulligan@chronicleonline.com.