The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved the preliminary reading of ordinances Thursday, Aug. 19 to adjust the qualifying dates for municipal elections at the request of the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Village Attorney Keith Davis noted that the village charter currently sets the qualifying dates for the March municipal elections as the first seven business days after Jan. 1, with the names of the candidates to be sent to the Supervisor of Elections Office no later than 5 p.m. on the fourth business day after the close of qualifying.
The Florida Statutes were recently amended, obligating the Supervisor of Elections Office to send out vote-by-mail ballots, previously called absentee ballots, to uniformed service members and overseas voters by statutorily prescribed deadlines before all municipal elections. In correspondence received in June, the Supervisor of Elections Office strongly recommended that the village amend its qualifying period so that it ends on or before the 95th day before the election, which this cycle would be Dec. 3, 2021 for the March 2022 election.
In response, village staff is proposing to move qualifying to the first seven business days in November of the calendar year immediately preceding the year of the election.
The council approved the first readings of two ordinances, one to amend the village charter regarding qualifying dates, and the other amending the code of ordinances.
“In order for the Supervisor of Elections to comply with mail-in voting requirements, they are requesting that all qualifying dates for the municipal elections be pushed back to a minimum of 95 days, which is early December,” Davis said. “This ordinance, and the next ordinance, which proposes amendments to the code, would propose to change your qualifying date and push it back from the first seven business days of January all the way back to the first seven business days of November. It’s a little bit more than 95 days, but it avoids the Thanksgiving holidays.”
Mayor Fred Pinto said the village really has no option in this situation, and the other council members agreed.
“Unless we want to run the elections, which is not a good idea in my mind,” Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas said.
Councilwoman Selena Samios made a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which carried 5-0.
The council also approved a companion ordinance amending the code of ordinances regarding qualifying dates and certification of elections, qualifying the village clerk to delegate duties of the election process.
Davis said the second ordinance not only amends the qualifying dates, but also addresses the duties of the canvassing board.
“In addition to moving the qualifying dates, the Supervisor of Elections has requested us to look at how we appoint the canvassing board,” he said. “In our case, our canvassing board includes the Supervisor of Elections, as well as the village clerk and one council member not involved in that particular election.”
Davis said the Supervisor of Elections has declined to participate in the village’s canvassing board activities.
“There is a choice to either remove the supervisor from our canvassing board and appoint someone else, or designate the Supervisor of Elections’ canvassing board to canvass our municipal election,” he said.
In that case, the canvassing board would be the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, a county court judge, and the mayor of Palm Beach County or a designee.
Davis added that being on the canvassing board involves sitting at the county canvassing board while the vote counting is going on, which is about five days under normal conditions.
Councilwoman Selena Samios said she understood the commitment that a canvassing board member must make.
“I think all of us have gone through that process, where we’ve gone down with staff to sit there until 4 in the morning and watch that process,” Samios said. “I did like the transparency of it, so I did like that process of it.”
Valuntas said he leaned toward the idea of having professionals sitting as the canvassing board.
“Instead of having someone sitting up here on the council who isn’t involved in an election but could be supporting someone who is involved in that election… and my thought was, we’ve got a county board that does this,” he said. “I kind of like the idea of having people more versed in this and more professional, as far as doing it more often.”
Councilwoman Jan Rodusky made a motion to approve the ordinance, which designates canvassing board duties to the county. It carried 5-0.