Ion Sancho, the current Leon County Supervisor of Elections, has not been shy in telling voters that Mark Earley, a long-time Supervisor of Elections employee, is the most qualified candidate to replace him when he retires later this year.
But it appears he may have gone too far.
On September 2, 2016, the Leon County Canvassing Board met to finish up some duties related to the previous primary election dealing with unscanned and provisional ballots.
However, the minutes of the meeting show that former state representative Alan Williams, candidate for Supervisor of Elections, addressed the Canvassing Board and described an instance at the Northeast Library in the first days of early voting where he stopped Supervisor Sancho from walking into the facility while wearing a campaign button for Mark Earley.
Representative Williams thought the incident was unfair, may not have been an isolated incident and is concerned it may happen again. He also said, as a citizen, he is concerned about what he perceived to be improper staff conduct and what else it indicates may be happening behind the scenes.
Supervisor Sancho acknowledged he forgot to remove his button before visiting the voting location on the first Sunday of early voting. He said he removed the button in Representative Williams’ presence. He apologized for the mistake.
Representative Williams suggested Supervisor Sancho’s public displays of endorsement for Mark Earley brings the integrity of the election process into question.
Leon County Commissioner John Dailey asked Supervisor Sancho to use discretion when wearing a candidate’s button. He added that politics and perception go hand in hand and that while an action may be legal, it may not always be the best decision.
Supervisor Sancho said he would take the advice under good consideration.
Representative Williams said it is not the only time he believes Supervisor Sancho has spent time during the work day advocating for Mr. Earley over the course of the campaign.
Commissioner Bill Proctor said he did not think the quality of elections was in question. However, he did think there was an issue of sensitivity given an endorsed candidate being an employee of the office. He expressed concern about the Supervisor wearing solicitation materials within the 100 foot no solicitation zone at a polling location.
Proctor joined Commissioner Dailey in cautioning Mr. Sancho to remain mindful of his actions.
Commissioner Nick Maddox supported the sentiment. He added that Supervisor Sancho is well aware of the rules and is a man of integrity who would not do anything intentional to violate the rules. He added that while an action may not be illegal, it could have some bearing on what happens in an election in terms of perception and the Supervisor should remain mindful of that.
Judge Ron Flury agreed that perception is reality.
Commissioner Nick Maddox said he considers Mr. Earley to have provided excellent service to the community in position with the Supervisor’s office. However, he said he has received an inquiry from a citizen questioning why Mr. Earley is allowed to participate in the voting management process while he is on the ballot.
Commissioner Nick Maddox acknowledged a staffing memo which provided actions taken to separate Mr. Earley from the voting management process, but asked what efforts have been taken to make sure the public understands Mr. Earley’s role in the office at this time.
Assistant Supervisor of Elections Chris Moore detailed the actions taken which included revocation of security access, change of duties, segregation from handling ballots and the temporary appointment of an Acting Voting systems Manager to take over Mr. Earley’s usual duties until he is no longer on the ballot.
Commissioner Dailey warned that public perception doesn’t always capture details of a situation. He said that public perception can quickly run askew from the facts.
Supervisor Sancho said he did not think there was a public perception issue, but rather a political perception issue.
Commissioner Dailey reminded Supervisor Sancho that the Canvassing Board has expressed its concern about perceptions.
Commissioner Maddox advised Supervisor Sancho to take an abundance of caution in operations in the office. He also acknowledged that precautions should not be so strict as to stifle anyone’s First Amendment rights.
The election between Mr. Earley and Mr. Williams will be decided on November 8th, 2016.
This article was based on the meeting minutes as taken by a Supervisor of Elections employee.