Day 6

Meet the Florida elections supervisor facing down foreign interference, conspiracies and a pandemic

Running an election in the midst of a global pandemic has been anything but business as usual, says Seminole County elections supervisor Chris Anderson. In addition to new COVID-19-related rules, he's up against disinformation and rumors — but he says he's prepared for election day.

Chris Anderson says his experience in law enforcement has prepared him for the job

Early voting opened in Florida on Monday, leading to a record turnout. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

When Chris Anderson was appointed elections supervisor for Florida's Seminole County last year, he had no idea what 2020 had in store.

"You had to adapt and overcome very quickly," he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Running an election at his voting precincts in the midst of a global pandemic has been anything but business as usual.

The placement of electronic voting machines has been reimagined to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Voters would normally use a stylus to select their preferred candidate; those have been replaced with 100,000 handmade, single-use Q-tips wrapped in tinfoil. Sanitized pens are now found in takeout pho noodle soup containers filled with disinfectant solution.

Meanwhile, Anderson says he's regularly up against people disputing the validity of mail-in ballots and what is — and isn't — allowed at a polling location.

"Just before we started this interview, I was debunking a rumour," he said. "You kind of get used to it."

On Wednesday, U.S. intelligence officials said that Russia and Iran have attempted to interfere in the upcoming election, targeting voters with fake emails purporting to be from the far-right group the Proud Boys. Social networks including Facebook and Twitter have taken steps in recent weeks to further limit the spread of disinformation.

Anderson, who was appointed supervisor in Jan. 2019 and is up for election this November, says that while he hasn't seen any examples of interference in his county, facing propaganda and disinformation is "always a struggle" — but it's one he's prepared for.

"I spent over 12 years in law enforcement and you have to wear many, many different hats because as you respond to calls for service, they differ," he said. "You become a problem solver throughout the day."

Bellwether county

As a long standing swing state, U.S. President Donald Trump's success on Nov. 3 could be determined in part by voters in Florida.

While Seminole County, Fla., has been a Republican stronghold for decades, experts believe that the area could prove to be a bellwether county for the presidential race.

Seminole is part of the Interstate 4 corridor, a group of seven counties between Daytona Beach and St. Petersburg, which can make or break a candidate's chances, according to University of Central Florida lecturer and political history expert Jim Clark.

"Since 1996, whoever wins a majority of those counties gets a ticket to the White House," he told Day 6.

Chris Anderson was appointed elections supervisor for Seminole County, Fla., in Jan. 2019. (Seminole Votes)

Counties south of Interstate 4 typically vote Democrat, while those north of the highway usually lean Republican, he added.

"Both candidates will come into this I-4 corridor about even, and we get to pick the winner, in effect."

Early voting opened in the county on Monday and, like many other parts of the country, voters have already smashed previous records. At least 350,000 Floridians cast a ballot on opening day, according to Politico. 

Mail-in ballots in the state are up this election, too, with 2.5 million sent in — more than double during the same timeframe in the 2016 election.

"Our data tells us that Seminole County likes to vote early, and we knew where we needed to put it," Anderson said. In one early polling station, Anderson and his team set up 50 individual polling booths.

With 50 voters casting their ballot at once, he says there have been no lineups.

WATCH: U.S. intelligence says Iran and Russia attempted to interfere with election

FBI identifies attempts at U.S. election interference by Russia and Iran

The National

1 month agoVideo
U.S. officials are investigating a series of threatening emails, sent to voters in several states, and have identified Iran and Russia as foreign actors attempting to influence public opinion. 2:02

Driven by personal experience

Anderson says his experiences growing up, and as a military vet, drive his desire to ensure the election is fair and free

Anderson grew up in a troubled home, with his father struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. At age 19, after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he enrolled in the U.S. military and served a tour in Afghanistan. 

"It helped solidify my patriotism and it made me realise that although I had it bad, I didn't have it that bad," he told Bambury.

There are worries that violence could erupt on election night, depending on the outcome. Anderson says it's been part of planning discussions since he took the job.

"When I first came into office, the discussion was about cyber security," he said. "Then as time went on ... COVID-19 came into play."

"The conversation piece just kind of changes as we get closer and closer to Nov. 3."

But with his background in law enforcement, and election workers trained in how to handle disruptive people, suspicious packages and people who arrive at a polling location with a firearm — a first for Florida, he says — Anderson answered simply when asked if he was ready for election day.

"Absolutely," he said.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez.

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