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Voting Valedictorians

Featured Photo from Voting Valedictorians

The Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office celebrates the graduation of its inaugural Elections Academy class

Many of us have heard the phrase, democracy is not a spectator sport. This summer, 12 Seminole County residents put those words into action as participants in the inaugural Elections Academy, an eight-week course led by the Supervisor of Elections Office to help locals learn about Seminole County’s election process. The class brought together residents of diverse backgrounds – a retired educator, a homemaker, and several small-business owners to name a few – with a common goal to better understand the ins and outs of an election.

“The mission for my office is to ensure your choice counts, and the Elections Academy is truly an opportunity for the average citizen to learn and to become involved,” says Chris Anderson, Seminole County’s Supervisor of Elections. “Voters across our community have questions about how we ensure every vote counts, and I want to give citizens the opportunity to become their community’s experts on the process. For someone who is highly interested in the bedrock of our American democracy – voting – this is a great way to understand all of the aspects of the process.”

“Let me tell you, we were not easy teachers,” grins Helen Ehrgott Trovato. Helen is the office’s diversified services director who spearheaded the Elections Academy initiative. “We really made our participants work hard, and we did our best to design the program to be informative, realistic, and interesting for them. In order to do that, we based the curriculum on the election cycle itself.”

Participants spent their first session learning about the importance of mapping and districts. In the weeks that followed, the Elections Academy covered candidate requirements, ballot design, vote-by-mail and overseas processing, canvassing and certifying election results, election worker training, election-day execution, polling logistics and warehouse operations, and equipment logistics.

“Okay, so we didn’t have a SWAT vehicle or a snow cone truck like the Sheriff’s Office,” jokes Chris, “but, I believe our first Elections Academy class had fun and learned a whole lot. We’re now truly a tight-knit group, too. My hope is for our graduates to take everything they’ve learned and become ambassadors in our community to help educate and engage voters through their purpose, passion, and desire for progress.”

Program participant and Lake Mary resident Jim Conner has already been doing just that for years as a volunteer deputy at local polling stations. The Elections Academy gave Jim the opportunity to dive even deeper into understanding the election process.

“I firmly believe in our democracy and voting process, but this was a great way for me to see the entire operation,” says Jim, a retired educator. “Now that I better understand the process, I’ll be better able to answer more questions from voters at the polling stations. I can assure voters that our process is fair and secure, and I love that I can give back to my community in         this way.”

Jim says what surprised him most while in the Elections Academy program was just how much hard work is involved in designing the ballot. From following strict font-size guidelines to printing only on specific presses, ballot design is an exacting process with no room for error.

Oviedo resident Trish Buhl, a military spouse of 30 years, has lived all over the country and the world and experienced the voting process from every angle. She distinctly remembers not having her vote counted while overseas during the Bush-Gore election.

“That was such a disappointing experience, and it made me realize how much it matters to have your vote counted,” says Trish.

So, when Trish’s daughter Reagan had the opportunity to vote for the first time in 2018, Trish made sure to sit down with her and take time to fill out her sample ballot. On Election Day, Reagan got to the polling station at the East Branch library in Oviedo only to realize she 

had left her sample ballot at home. Thankfully, the poll workers came to the rescue.

“They called me so I could bring the ballot to Reagan and made sure she used her vote,” Trish recalls. “They even clapped for her when it was all over! I was so appreciative of what they did for my daughter, and I was amazed by their passion for the work that they do.”

Inspired by this heartwarming experience, Trish decided to sign up for the Elections Academy when she learned about the new initiative.

“People need to know about the impressive work going on at the Supervisor of Elections Office,” says Trish. “It’s fascinating to see the amount of work that goes into every single thing. I encourage everybody to take the time to call the office if you have a question or take a tour to see what goes on behind the scenes.”

On Elections Academy graduation day in early October, Trish, Jim, and their fellow graduates concluded their eight-week course with special guest speaker Maria Matthews, division of elections director for the Florida Department of State.

“Your role in the election process is key, and your informed vote is invaluable,” said Maria. “Thank you for taking initiative and asking the hard questions. Together, we will continue to do all we can to make sure the election process is fair and impartial.”

For more information, or to sign up for the next Elections Academy, visit VoteSeminole.org.

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