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Palm Coast Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022 11 months ago

Ensuring that you can vote early but not often: Q+A with Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart

Here's how security has increased since she was elected.
by: Brian McMillan Contributing Writer

Flagler County does not have zombie voters.

That’s Kaiti Lenhart’s way of assuring local residents that her office checks death records to ensure that no dead people are casting votes — either in error or by some scheme to defraud an election. Lenhard has been Flagler’s supervisor of elections since 2015 and spoke recently with the Palm Coast Observer, at the PMG studio nextdoor, about election security, voting by mail and mock elections.


Your website says you have a 1,200 square foot garden at home. That must be a typo, right?

No, no. It is accurate.


Who pulls the most weeds?

I'm still training the children to do it. It's not going well. So I'd say probably my husband.


Do you like going to the library while early voting is underway?

I don't mind it. It's really busy, obviously, during an election. I don't know why. The Community Center has a larger parking lot and larger facility, but the library has sort of become the hub of all campaigning for some reason.


You started working for the Flagler County Elections Office in 2009. You were appointed Supervisor of Elections by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015, and elected for full terms in 2016 and 2020. How has elections security changed since you started working for the Flagler County Elections Office?

The elections office wasn't designed with security in mind, so I guess things have really changed. Network security, physical security — we've had to revamp the entire office. So it is a brand new elections office.

I've made some improvements to the physical security; our tabulation room is now actually enclosed space. And we're working on getting RFID, which is like a scan card with an auditable trail of who has access to certain areas. As far as physical security, it's a lot different.

And then, of course, network security, which would be a whole other interview. But we've done a lot. I mean, we have brand new servers, a brand new voting system, new electronic poll books — everything is up to date and state of the art and protected through various means. It's all outlined on the Elections Office website under “Election Security.”


The Florida Senate is considering a law change that, among other things, would “Require county elections supervisors to conduct reviews of voter-registration rolls at least once a year, which would be more frequent than the currently required every other year.” How would that impact you?

Well, we already do list maintenance; we do it more frequently than is required. And also, we are getting information now from the Eric state system, which is the Electronic Registration Information Center. It's a consortium of different states that share voter registration data. So we're already doing our list maintenance more frequently than is required by law.


You’re talking about a list of everybody in the county who's registered to vote and making sure that they really are who they say they are?

Yes, and that goes back to some of the improvements. One I didn't mention is our addressing system. We are now on one of the most up-to-date point-based mapping systems in the state of Florida as far as elections go. We converted from a range system to a point system back in 2017.

In GIS, you can think of like 1 through 15 Main Street, and anyone can register at any of those addresses that are available. That would be a range system. But the point system is based on actual houses. So every address has a point. If you know 2 Main Street is a business, we can exclude that and just do 1, 3, 5 and exclude anything that's vacant, or a business address, commercial, all of that.

We make sure that when people actually register an address that it is a residential address, and then their information, as far as their personal info, goes through the Department of State — their driver's license number, their Social — all of that's verified at a state level before they're actually proved to be a voter.


So is the idea that if someone made up an address that you would catch that?

Yes, we absolutely would.


Can you give any examples of ways people might try to cheat and how you try to stop them?

People do try to vote twice. I know it's hard to believe.

You wouldn't think someone would forget that they voted, but they do, and it's just because the ballots are mailed out in advance of the election. And they are very excited about voting, so they come in and try to vote again. And we say, “You already voted.” And they'll argue about it, until we show them the actual ballot with their signature on it — their mail ballot — and then the return address on the other side. They're like, “I forgot. I sent that in, didn’t I?” And I’m like, “Yes, you did.”

In 2020, we found that people would like to get their vote-by-mail ballot. A lot more people had requested them because of the coronavirus pandemic. I believe those numbers are going to probably stay higher than in previous election cycles. Anyway, so they get their ballot, and then they would decide to vote in person. So they'd bring the ballot with them to the early voting site, drop it in the secure drop box, and then go in and vote. Well, the early voting vote would count, of course. Once we got the ballots back to the office, we see that they voted in person. And all of that information is sent to the State Attorney's Office because they did attempt to vote twice. But it's always caught.


What’s more secure, voting in a booth, or voting by mail?

I really feel like both ways are absolutely secure.

“Yes, everything's in good order. Your vote will be counted.”


Florida has been a mail-ballot state for over 20 years. And there's always that group of folks that will come into the office and want to hand it to a person over the counter. And we'll actually take that ballot and verify the signature on it, while they're standing there to give them that peace of mind to let them know, “Yes, everything's in good order. Your vote will be counted.” And yeah, the the boxes were very heavily used in 2020.


Can you imagine a day when we can vote by phone?

Maybe. Our equipment is able to read what would be like a sample ballot on your phone, and you can make your choices, and then it would be able to be scanned by the equipment, and then produce a paper ballot. The Legislature would probably have to make some changes in order for us to do that.


In previous years, you have helped conduct mock elections at schools. Why is that important?

It's good to get our youth involved in the process of voting. It encourages them to study the candidates.

The teachers can use it in the classroom, to really build on that in the curriculum. They even have debates in high school; they’ll set up one side of the classroom and talk about their candidate. It’s a real voting learning experience, even though they're not quite old enough yet.

It's part of our civic engagement priorities to get out there in the schools. We also do voter registration drives in the high schools.

Because they had that experience, then maybe they'll pay attention a little bit more when they get older and decide, “Elections could be important for me. I think I'll think I'll research those candidates like we did in class that time.”


Why is it important that people around the world, around the U.S., around Flagler County, trust our elections process?

The most challenging thing, at least this year so far, has been the spread of misinformation. And that really erodes voter confidence.

If you think about what could impact turnout, you would really need people to believe that their vote is counted. And when there's so much of this misinformation out there. So we need people to be engaged, and actively voting, for them to be represented. And that builds a healthy community. It's very important.

Brian McMillan was editor of the Palm Coast Observer from 2010 to 2022. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children....

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