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Longtime Collier Election Supervisor Jennifer Edwards retires

Outgoing Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards
Courtesy of the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office
Outgoing Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards

For the first time in more than 20 years, voters in Collier County are poised to have a new supervisor of elections after Jennifer Edwards retires effective Friday, April 28, 2023.

Edwards was appointed Collier County Supervisor of Elections by then-Governor Jeb Bush in 2000, just months ahead of the Bush v. Gore presidential election when a recount dispute put Florida center stage.

Within Edward’s first two years on the job, more changes had been made to election law in the U.S. than in the 200 years prior. Over her tenure, Collier has seen a 47% increase in the number of registered voters from 123,572 voters in 2000 to 261,026 registered voters as of March 31, 2023.

“Right now, we have 66 precincts and we have 11 early voting locations. So, all of those locations need to be staffed. They need to have the appropriate number of tabulation machines at the locations as well as all the supplies that are needed,” said Edwards.

“We have a committee on our staff that actually analyzes every polling location in the odd-numbered years. We do the analysis to determine, ‘How do we do it better? What do we need to improve? Where do we need another polling location? Or do we need to move one of the locations because of the shift in population?’ So, we’re constantly analyzing how our voters vote.”

Edwards held the position after running for the job unopposed six consecutive times, bringing an uncommon legacy of stability to the office. Since the position was officially named the Collier County Supervisor of Elections in 1965, just three women have held the role, including Edwards’ predecessor Mary Morgan and Edna Cribb Santa.

Edwards said the decision to step down mid-term was hers alone and was not because of any pressure from the Collier County Republican Executive Committee.

Edwards has recently disagreed with the Committee, which passed a resolution in March calling on state lawmakers to impose the use of paper ballots statewide for next year’s presidential election. They also want to require supervisor’s offices to perform 100% hand counts of the results. Edwards said such a move would be well intended, but not necessary.

“That’s been my response to members of the executive committee who question the integrity of this office. We totally are committed to following Florida election law and that’s what we do,” Edwards said.

“There’s currently an election bill that’s being studied by our state association and, oh my goodness, none of that recommendation in the executive committee’s resolution has been included in that bill. So, I think there are legislators across the state that question whether or not their recommendations are necessary because Florida has been recognized as a leader in conducting fair and accurate elections and those changes just are not needed.”

Edwards said her office opens its doors to anyone who might question the level of security and integrity with which her office handles ballots and ballot tabulation.

“We have transparency tours and we invite and encourage the public to please call us. Tell us you want to do a tour and we will show you,” said Edwards.

“I think there are groups who, I believe a term that’s been used by the media is ‘election deniers,’ and they’re the ones that want, perhaps, there to be a reason their candidate didn’t win, but it’s not because we did anything wrong. We follow election law and the results are the results. There’s an old saying in the world of elections that the loser always questions the credibility of an election, but we conduct accurate elections.”

In a letter announcing her retirement, Edwards recommended that Governor Ron DeSantis appoint Chief Deputy of the Collier Elections Office Melissa Blazier to fill the remainder of her term through the 2024 election.

“She has been with me for 17 years, and the last ten years as chief deputy. So, she understands the traditions, the practices, and has a knowledge of Florida election law and understands the law as well as the administrative rules that must be followed to ensure the integrity of the office.”

There’s no word yet on whether DeSantis will follow her recommendation. In the meantime, Edwards said she’s looking forward to spending more time with family, including three grandchildren, and gardening in her yard alongside her longtime pet, an African Gray parrot, named Bubba.

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