OKEECHOBEE — The race for supervisor of elections has been narrowed down to three finalists — Melissa Arnold, Donna V. Howard and Lisa Rodriguez.
Melissa Arnold has been in Okeechobee for about 26 years, originally commuting here for work with Humana. She later moved to Okeechobee permanently. She helped launch Okeechobee’s first health maintenance organization (HMO) and went on to manage a physician’s office. “I had a keen eye and a short pencil, so I ended up finding an embezzler, and I quit Humana to help my ex-husband in his office.” Later, she taught reading and social studies at Osceola Middle School. She and her husband own Arnold Organic. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from the University of Central Florida and has obtained further education from Florida Atlantic University and Indian River State College.
Her four-point plan is to double down on cleaning the voter roll, engage the youth, change early voting hours and civic engagement.
Arnold plans to require FCEP (Florida Certified Election Professional) certification of all full-time employees; establish social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reach young voters and communicate important events and deadlines to the community; begin participation in local fairs, festivals and expos to drive voter turnout, registration and a voting mindset; and re-establish participation in student council elections from elementary to high schools — not only with public school students but also with private schools and with home schools; begin the celebration of events such as the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote and the nationally enacted (2012) Voter Registration Day/Week.
“I’d like to set up some programs that would last into the future. If we can increase that 20- to 30-year-old age group, that is our lowest category.” She would also like to change the early voting hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She believes they are missing opportunity to increase voter turnout by having the hours so limited. “8:30-4:30 is just very limited.”
Arnold has served as the Okeechobee Republican Executive Committee State Committeewoman from 2004 until the present and is an assistant coach for both soccer and basketball with Upward Christian Sports. She is married with three children and describes herself as a woman of faith.
Donna V. Howard, known to many by her maiden name, Donna Robertson, was raised in Okeechobee and graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1989. Robertson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology at the University of Central Florida. She currently holds a 2-20 Property & Casualty Insurance License with a Construction Risk Insurance Specialist Designation from the International Risk Management Institute (better known as IRMI).
Howard was appointed and currently serves as a resident trustee for the city of Okeechobee’s Employee Pension Fund Board. She currently works for a national insurance brokerage firm as a claims manager and has been in their employment for over 15 years.
Howard believes these qualifications would help her if she is elected. “I am familiar with long-term recordkeeping, budgets, audits and statutes. I feel my current duties most closely mirror those of our current supervisor of election’s duties.”
She said she feels that Diane Hagan does a terrific job with voting now. “It’s so seamless,” she said. “When I moved away to go to college, it was not like that in the city at all. I waited in line almost three hours with a young child. Here, if you do the early voting, there is literally no wait.” She said one thing she would like to do is initiate a quarterly newsletter so people know what actually happens in the office. She wants to educate people on what they do there. She would like to increase voter registration, but said it would need to be budget-friendly, because it would come out of taxpayers’ money. “Social media and patriotism are free, though, and I’d like to combine them. People are so busy nowadays,” she explained. “I think it would be great if we could send reminders when it was time to vote, whether it be Instagram or Facebook or Twitter.”
Howard chose to run NPA or “no party affiliation,” because she said she believes it is anti-democratic and a conflict of interest to belong to a specific party when you are entrusted to count votes from both sides. “It is my personal belief that the Supervisor of Elections should influence voter education and participation … not influence who people vote for. This job should be about servicing our public and trying not to raise our taxes.”
Howard said she believes in God, stands for family values, enjoys helping and educating people, believes in being fiscally responsible and is for honesty and integrity.
Lisa Madrigal Rodriguez is also a lifelong resident of Okeechobee. She graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1980 and attended Indian River State College. She has been a deputy supervisor of elections since 2014 and has worked in every Okeechobee County election since 1998. Prior to her employment with the elections office, she worked for Okeechobee County Bank, Florida Power & Light, J. Neal Wright, DMD, Florida Community Health Centers, Pritchard & Associates and Okeechobee County School Board.
Rodriguez is committed to using social media to promote voter education, community outreach and to increase voter confidence in the election process, extending office hours the day of book closing (deadline to register) to promote voter registration, partnering with local businesses and organizations to promote voter participation, increasing community presence through civic engagement and volunteering and improving staff knowledge through continuing education and cross training.
She plans to continue the office traditions of ensuring accurate and transparent elections, quality customer service and an open-door policy to address concerns and questions voters may have.
“I have served as a deputy supervisor of elections since 2014 and have prepared for and worked every election since 1998. This office demands an understanding of Florida Statutes, quality customer service, problem-solving skills, ethical practices and someone who will inspire confidence in the process. Elections today have ever-changing regulations, media attention and scrutiny that require a strong, experienced supervisor. My on-the-job experience and 22 years of election involvement make me uniquely qualified for this position. The voters of Okeechobee deserve experience,” she said.
Rodriguez is registered as a no party affiliation candidate, because she feels strongly that the position of the supervisor of elections should encourage and foster a nonpartisan environment in the elections office for all voters.