Election Season has Begun In Mount Dora

This year’s ballot will be a crowded one. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Several weeks ago, all registered Lake County voters were mailed cards with their current voter information. It has all the information you need to vote—except any of the information you need to make the right decision for yourself.

If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you have until August 1 to register for the August 30 primary, and October 11 for the November 8 general election. For information about how to register, visit the Lake County Supervisor of Elections website (http://elections.lakecountyfl.gov)

This year’s election is a biggie. Of course, Mount Dorans will help decide who goes to the White House in January, but just as crucially—on the local level, at least—we will be selecting two new Mount Dora city council seats for District 3 (Jim Murray vs. John Tucker) and at-large (Cathy Hoescht vs. Susan Nemec) (A third seat representing the Second District will be filled by incumbent Cal Rolfson because he has no opponents.)

In the coming months, the Mount Dora Citizen will be looking into specific election issues. As we did last year, we’ll introduce each of the local candidates  and ask them to voice their ideas about what’s important for Mount Dora. There are a number of county-wide issues which we should pay attention to as Lake County residents. Anything we can do to help the community feel both engaged and educated is a definite priority.

To start with, these general comments about the election.

All Mount Dora voters will receive sample ballots around August 8 for the August 30 primary election since there is one issue all Lake County voters regardless of party affiliation  must weigh in on: Florida Amendment 4, Florida Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure.

There are also many races that will first require a primary vote, all the way from the Democratic and Republican fields for U.S. Senate down to the three Republican who all want the Water Authority District 1 seat. In primary elections, any race in which more than one of any party are running require a primary vote; depending on how you’re registered, the primary sample ballot you’ll be getting in the mail will include the races in which your party affiliation (including independent) have multiple candidates.

Redistricting is making a huge impact on elections in Florida this year, and a confusing one at that. Over the past year, the Florida Legislature and state Supreme Court have been playing “Who’s On First?” with the district maps. The district boundaries the Florida legislature had set for the state senate and U.S. House of Representatives were both successfully challenged in court, and the Florida Supreme Court has approved re-drawn districts. As a result of that, all incumbents in those districts are being required to run again for their seat.

The redrawn district maps for Florida state senate 12 and Florida U.S. Congress 6
The redrawn district maps for Florida state senate 12 and Florida U.S. Congress 6

First, Mount Dora’s Florida State Senate district has changed from 11 to 12. In the 2012 general election, Mount Dorans selected Allen Hays for the District 11 seat; in the redrawn District 12 map we’re now a part of (which now runs west to the Villages), Hays has decided to run instead for for Supervisor of Elections, leaving the District 12 race contested by three Republicans—Dennis Baxley, David Gee and M. Marlene O’Toole. If one of those gets at least 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 30 primary, they will win the seat (there are no challengers from outside the Republican party). If no one wins by that margin, the two top vote-getting Republicans will compete for the seat in the Nov. election.

Second, Mount Dora has moved from the 10th U.S. Congressional district to the 6th. The boundaries of what we fall into changed significantly; most of District 6 covers Flagler and Volusia Counties with a big enough nibble of Lake County to include Mount Dora. District 10 incumbent Daniel Webster (whom Mount Dorans voted for in 2014) has decided to run instead for the Dist. 11 seat (which extends to Tampa). The  field in our new District 6 is comprised of three Republicans (including incumbent Ron DeSantis of Jacksonville) and four Democrats. The winner from both the Aug. 30 Republican and Democratic primaries will go up against each other in November.

Mount Dora remains in state house district 31; incumbent Jennifer Sullivan (R) runs against Republican Theo Bob of Eustis in the Aug. 30 primary, and the winner will go against attorney Robert Rightmyer of Apopka (Ind.) in November.

In other statewide elections, three Florida Supreme Court Justices—Jorge Larga, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston—are facing retention. Four District 5 Court of Appeals judges are also facing retention—Jay Cohen, Vincent Torpy, Brian Lambert and James Edwards.

Mount Dorans will also be asked to vote on a number of County races in the fall election, including Lake County Sheriff, Supervisor of Elections, Lake County Commission 1, 3 and 5, School Board District 2 and 4 and Lake County Judge Group 2 (all of these seats are considered at-large and require the decision of all registered voters in Lake County). There are also seats open in special districts like Lake Soil and Water, Water Authority and North Lake County Hospital Board.  And there are four more amendments.

Making informed decisions about all of these ballot issues is a huge job. And while the Lake County Supervisor of Elections website is a great resource on everything you need to know about  voting in Lake County (including election results), they do not provide any information about specific candidates or ballot issues.

Where then to go? One good online resource is Ballotpedia, “The Encyclopedia of American Politics.”  Its a non-partisan database containing comprehensive and objective data about most levels of government. (Only the top 100 municipal governments by population are included.) U.S. Elections is another, and it has a section on Florida races. (http://www.uselections.com/fl/fl.htm)

Fortunately for Lake County voters, this election is in the most experienced of hands in outgoing Supervisor of Elections Emogene Stegall. Emogene started in the Lake County elections office in 1958 and worked there for 14 years before running successfully for the Supervisor of Elections office. She was unopposed for the office for 29 years, and successfully won every challenge since. When she retires at the end of this term she will be 90 and have served for 54 years.

Retiring Lake County Supervisor of Elections Emogene Stegall (photo: Orlando Sentinel)
Retiring Lake County Supervisor of Elections Emogene Stegall (photo: Orlando Sentinel)

About a dozen people work in the county elections office, and there will be quite a turnover when Stegall leaves. Assistant Supervisor of Elections Jerry Foster will also leave, and three department employees are retiring. That’s a lot emptiness on the bench, which won’t be too helpful for her replacement since none of the five people running for her seat have any elections experience.  “When I look back I think I have always worked for honest, fair and transparent elections,” she says. “We have worked hard. We’ve never had an election contested.”

With the intensity sure to reach unprecedented levels with this year’s election, that’s surely a good thing for Mount Dora.

Now all Mount Dora has to do is get out and vote.

Election Day in Mount Dora, 2015
Election Day in Mount Dora, 2015
David Cohea, Writer (david@mountdoracitizen.com)