Challenges face new supervisor of elections
STORY BY LISA ZAHNER - STAFF WRITER
(Week of March 10, 2011),
Photo of Leslie Swan and husband Michael
After almost four months of not knowing if one of a dozen rivals would overnight be her boss, newly appointed Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan can begin implementing her own vision for the office in earnest.
For 14 years, the words Supervisor of Elections and Kay Clem were inseparable. Love her or hate her, Clem has been a personal and political force. Swan, meanwhile, was the pleasant and patient voice on the phone fielding questions and diffusing crises, the person behind the scenes who kept things running like clockwork.
Now, stepping out from Clem’s legacy – no longer burdened with the baggage of Clem’s friends and enemies -- Swan must mend some fences, instill confidence and serve the county’s voters with a fair hand.
But her first test was to keep a secret. When Gov. Rick Scott called Swan personally on Monday to deliver the good news, he swore her to secrecy until his office had a chance to call the long list of applicants who weren’t chosen. The Governor’s staff told her they would put out a press release by 3:30 p.m. By that time, Swan says, she was about to burst from not being able to share her joy.
“I’m so proud to represent the citizens of Indian River County,” Swan said.
After the news broke, she says, she was inundated with phone calls, congratulations and requests for comment. Wrapping up one interview to head out to an elite meet-and-greet with visiting Republican strategist Karl Rove, she realized that, in all the frenzy, she’d forgotten to call her mom.
“My family has been my No. 1 source of support,” Swan said.
And that support is critical, considering the fact that she puts in 50-plus hours per week. Weekends and evenings can include duties such as voting equipment demonstrations and awareness efforts.
Swan was brought into the elections office by then-Supervisor Clem in 2005, and received her endorsement to take over the post.
“She would serve our citizens well with a balanced view of all issues that face those serving the public in today’s climate,” Clem wrote of Swan in her Nov. 12 resignation letter to then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Among those issues are the impending redistricting, an upcoming Presidential primary and the public’s growing expectation of access to user-friendly technology. There is also the possibility that ballots may need to be printed in a second language. And there’s also the matter of shrinking budgets, and the powerful push to run government like a business.
“Money is tight,” she said. “I’m having every one of the employees write down all of the expenses and we’ll be getting competitive bids for different areas.”
She also touted the virtues of planning, of organization and of being nimble.
“I have my hand in just about every part of the office,” Swan said. “I’ve made a point to learn everybody’s job just in case, because we don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t have a large staff.”
Swan has been managing a staff of six full-time people, three part-timers and one seasonal employee. She says she is in no rush to hire a deputy, as other matters are pressing at the moment. There’s a need for a qualified Information Technology person to get the new backup server system up and running for November’s municipal elections and beyond. With the Presidential race coming up in 2012, Indian River County does not want to make any Palm Beach-style news on election night.
“I look forward to a successful election and getting the results out quickly and accurately,” she said.
Bureaucrats can be territorial. But when it comes to creating a seamless voting experience for citizens, Swan said the Supervisor of Elections and municipal clerks across the county need to work together. She has been part of negotiations to draft a contract between the various cities, towns and the county to delineate responsibilities.
To better educate the public before they get to the polls, Swan’s office has launched an enhanced website with many new features and easier access to reports and data. Coming soon will be a customized, precinct-specific sample ballot online.
Registering voters is a big part of Swan’s job and she aims to get them on the voter rolls early.
“Young people can pre-register to vote at 16 and 17,” she said. “I want to start doing more of that, working with the schools.”
Swan’s youngest daughter, who just turned 18, will be a first-time voter in November. Swan and husband Michael, a partner with the law firm Rossway Moore Taylor and Swan, have a son in law school, and a second daughter working for Teach for America.
A Castaway Cove resident, Swan grew up in Vero Beach, left and returned to raise her family. Swan said she has made good friends across the political spectrum through her volunteer work with the Osceola School PTA, with Riverside Theatre’s Festival of Trees and while doing mission work with the First United Methodist Church.
Throughout the arduous waiting period while Gov. Crist and then Gov. Scott delayed making the appointment, Swan said she felt her staff pulling for her.
“I think they were as nervous as I was,” she said. “Change is a hard thing.”
But if the call would have come down differently on Monday, Swan said she would have accepted it.
“I’m an optimist,” Swan said. “I feel like if it’s meant to be and God wills it, it will work out.”
Swan said she thinks she’ll run in 2012. If so, it looks as if she could have some company from one, and possibly two of the people who applied for the job. Former Republican Executive Committee Secretary Sandi Harpring has already declared that she’ll be a candidate, and Clem’s 2008 challenger Cathy Hart is also contemplating a second run at the office.