Despite possible local elections still seven months away, the City of Oviedo and Seminole County election officials are already hard at work planning for Election Day 2023.
With two Oviedo leaders’ two-year terms ending there are currently no opponents to the incumbents, Mayor Megan Sladek and Councilmember Natalie Teuchert, who are both seeking re-election. Even so, that does not mean preparations are stalled for the Nov. 7 elections.
With an Aug. 11 qualifying deadline, city and county officials are working as if there will be a city election, knowing there won’t be county, state or federal races to fill the ballot otherwise, in what’s known as an “off-year” election. If there is an election in November, the amendment focusing on property tax exemptions to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that was mistakenly left off of the 2022 ballots will be included. If there is not one, it will be on the 2024 ballots.
“Every off-year when we have an election, we need to walk through how we want to conduct that election, primarily because the election is our expense,” Oviedo City Manager Bryan Cobb said at the April 3 City Council meeting. “We try to do this early in the budget process so that we can appropriately input that cost into the budget.”
During Oviedo’s last election in 2021, the city had three polling locations: the Live Oak Reserve Community Center, Riverside Park and Oviedo City Hall. If three sites are used again in 2023, staffing would cost an estimated $1,825 per location, according to numbers from the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office. Workers would be hired by the county, but paid by the city, and polls would be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Determining the sites in 2021 was mostly based on geography, having them spread throughout the city for voters to have the easiest access to the polls. Officials are looking at all options for sites, including potentially consolidating voting to one location, due to the amount of people who traditionally vote in person for off-year local elections and for cost savings. Based on a projected 25% turnout, ballots will cost $2,166, about 35 cents per ballot.
“I think we need to obviously have something out on the east side, definitely, whether it’s Sanctuary or Live Oak,” Deputy Mayor Jeff Boddiford said, referring to two of the city’s neighborhoods. “There needs to be one on the east, and then [in] the center and the north part of town.”
With Riverside Park most likely unavailable due to damage sustained by Hurricane Ian, possible locations include Live Oak, City Hall, The Sanctuary Community Association, the Oviedo Presbyterian Church on Lockwood Boulevard and the Twin Rivers Golf Course, though a lack of sufficient parking and loss of revenue for the course may rule it out. The use of city facilities would allow for cost savings, as rental fees for private locations often start at $500, according to county estimates.
“I would think between absentee [ballots] and early voting, I’m going to bet there’s not going to be a whole lot of traffic at any of the precincts on Election Day,” Councilmember Keith Britton said.
Additionally, changing polling locations requires the city to send out informational postcards to all 18,418 Oviedo households, with an estimated cost of $0.45 per card, or $8,289 total. Absentee ballots, which voters would need to request, cost about $1.75 each, for an estimated cost of $5,250, according to county estimates.
Council members agreed that one day of early voting — Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections office and Oviedo City Hall — would be sufficient for the amount of voter turnout expected.
For the election, Seminole County would convene its own board to canvas all results, and use Election Systems & Software (ES&S) voting machines, which Supervisor of Elections Public Information Officer Kyndle Cobb said allows for a safe and secure process.
“If you look at the state of Florida, after our moment in the headlines back in 2000, the state itself really took the time to invest in itself and look into seeing where the shortcomings were and how we can improve,” he said. “So we’re continuing to be a part of that standard, being the gold standard, but we’re also still looking to push forward.
“Nothing is ever perfect, and we’re always looking for ways to get better,” he said. “When you have accurate results reported on election night, and when you have the ability to be transparent with public testing of the equipment before an election, hand-counted audits after the election, everything is transparent and open to the public, with everything being 100% accurate, the proof is in the pudding.”