By Doug Miller
Fernandina Beach, July 5, 2022
Filed Nassau County candidate for School District 5, Ashley Benoit, is left out in the cold and is no longer a candidate. She told Citizens Journal Florida (CJF) that she was informed by Supervisor of Elections Janet Adkins on June 14th that she was deemed ineligible to run due to the December 2021 redistricting, (which placed her home in a new district), even though she claims her application was submitted successfully two months ago. She further maintains that the maps had not yet been updated at that time.
Ms. Adkins has a very different story, which appears in its entirety later in this article. Her response also contains much useful information about filing to run for office.
Ms. Benoit said in a phone interview with CJF that she went in person to the Supervisor of Elections office on April 18th, reviewed the district maps with Caitlin Tompkins and that all seemed to be in order, i.e., she was within the new district boundary. She stated that she joked at the time that “she hoped she would not be bumped from her district” ( like Jaime Deonas being moved from district 3 to district 1).
Ironically the new district line leaves her out by a mere 200 feet- she can look across Old Dixie Highway and see district 5.
Supervisor of Elections Janet Adkins responded to the allegations that the district maps were not updated in time, and said that since the December redistricting, they had adhered to standard procedure and informed the public via social media and the Supervisor of Elections website and began updating by March 2022 .
When asked directly if the maps in the office of the Supervisor of Elections were updated as of April 18th, Ms. Adkins replied that they were. She further stated that although she felt bad for Ms. Benoit, that it was “incumbent upon the candidate to perform due diligence” as to whether she was in the district for which she was running.
In an email from Janet Adkins to Ashley Benoit, the information seemingly contradicts what CJF was told (see below), as far as the time frame of the map update, and states that the updates began in early May. (below):
Meanwhile, there were originally other candidates who wanted to run against the incumbent in District 5, too, per Benoit. Benoit said she didn’t know this initially, but heard afterward that they dropped out to clear the field because they thought she had a better chance to win. Now they are out in the cold, too, leaving no opposition at all for the incumbent.
Ms. Benoit told us that she received a call from Supervisor Adkins 1/2 hour before their scheduled interview on June 14. She added that Adkins told her that she woke up that morning with a feeling that she should have her assistant, Maria, audit the candidacy and discovered that Adkins now lived out of the district. Adkins vehemently denied that in a phone call with Citizens Journal’s Publisher.
In response to Adkins’ statement that candidates are responsible for due diligence, Benoit said that it was her understanding that the maps were to be updated last December, 2021, that she thought she was working with current maps in the election office and that no one told her that updates would be delayed so long.
She believes that Adkins’ email was a concession that she hadn’t done everything right.
We told Ms. Benoit that the new map on the web site had a May 2022 date (see featured image of map) and asked her what was the date on the map she saw. She said that she did not notice a date on the map. Adkins told Citizens Journal on July 5 that a map was indeed published on their web site in May, but the lines were the same as in December.
Benoit also said that there is no evidence that this was done to foil her candidacy, but “there a lot of coincidences in this whole matter” and that “it just doesn’t smell right.” “They took every single day from me for nine weeks.” “If I knew about this earlier, I would have saved a lot of money, time and effort poured into the campaign.” “It takes all of your time.”
She closed with: “if I ever run again, I will make them tell me everything- what, when, how, etc.”
Supervisor of Elections Janet Adkins Response to candidate Ashley Benoit’s Allegations
All candidates were provided an equal opportunity to present qualifying papers. Our office qualified 35 candidates during the qualifying period of June 13 – June 17.
Candidates do not submit an application to run for office. The term “application” implies an approval process and does not accurately describe the candidate filing process. Florida Statute 105.031(5) details the items required to be filed for a school board candidate. These items include
1) A properly executed check drawn upon the candidate’s campaign account in an amount not less than the fee required by subsection (3) or, in lieu thereof, the copy of the notice of obtaining ballot position pursuant to s. 105.035. (Petition process of qualifying for certain judicial offices and the office of school board member).
2) The candidate’s oath required by subsection (4), which must contain the name of the candidate as it is to appear on the ballot; the office sought, including the district or group number if applicable; and the signature of the candidate, duly acknowledged.
3) The loyalty oath required by s. 876.05, signed by the candidate and duly acknowledged.
4) The completed form for the appointment of campaign treasurer and designation of campaign depository, as required by s. 106.021.
5) The full and public disclosure of financial interests required by s. 8, Art. II of the State Constitution or the statement of financial interests required by s. 112.3145, whichever is applicable.
Candidates for the office of school board member shall qualify no earlier than noon of the 71st day, and no later than noon on the 67th day before the primary election. (June 13, Noon – June17, Noon). This is based on F.S. 105.031(1).
Additionally, candidates are allowed 14 additional days to pre-qualify as referenced in F.S. 105.031(6) which states, “a filing officer may accept and hold qualifying papers submitted not earlier than 14 days prior to the beginning of the qualifying period, to be processed and filed during the qualifying period.”
F.S. 105.035 details the petition process for obtaining ballot position.
F.S. 105.035(3) states, “Each candidate for election to a judicial office or the office of school board member shall obtain the signature of a number of qualified electors equal to at least 1 percent of the total number of registered electors of the district, circuit, county, or other geographic entity represented by the office sought as shown by the compilation by the Department of State for the last preceding general election. Signatures may not be obtained until the candidate has filed the appointment of campaign treasurer and designation of campaign depository pursuant to s. 106.021.”
105.035(4)(a) states, “Each petition shall be submitted, prior to noon of the 28th day preceding the first day of the qualifying period for the office sought, to the supervisor of elections of the county for which such petition was circulated.”
As shown on our Candidate Fact Sheet (attached), a school board candidate must submit 722 valid petitions no later than noon, May 16, or pay a qualifying fee of $1,381.84.
It is not our practice to review district maps with candidates at the time of filing. In speaking with our staff member, Caitlyn Tompkins, this statement is false. None of our staff members have recollection of any joking conversation regarding being bumped from a district.
Benoit resp.: They may not “recall” but the conversation happened. I distinctly remember us specifically discussing Jamie Deonas being moved from District three to District One and how inconvenient that was.
I am unaware of any allegations regarding our office. No statement was made regarding waking up in the morning with a feeling. This is a false statement.
Our office is aware of no other candidates for District 5 School Board Member, other than the two who submitted paperwork.
Benoit resp.: I never said the SOE knew of any candidate, I stated I was told by others in the political arena that there was a third party interested in running and they decided not to due to my odds against the incumbent
It is the practice of our office to audit all candidate files at the time of qualifying and to notify candidates of any concerns. This practice is based on the Supervisor’s Handbook on Candidate Qualifying published by the Florida Division of Elections, which states, “In determining whether a candidate is qualified, the qualifying officer shall review the qualifying papers to determine whether all items required have been properly filed and whether each item is complete on its face including whether items that must be verified have been properly verified pursuant to Section 92.515(1)(a), Florida Statutes.”
The email was not a concession, but a response to the candidate’s email and public records request.
Benoit resp.: My response to this is that it is simply odd that on one hand Ms. Adkins says she didn’t say that she decided to audit my file, and then state that it is common to audit them at the time of qualifying. It’s also interesting that she has stated they do not inquire or investigate where people live but this statement above contradicts it.
At all times, it is the responsibility of the courts to determine the eligibility of candidates, not the Supervisor of Elections. This was communicated to the candidate and is statutorily mandated ins. 99.061(7)( c).
“The filing officer performs a ministerial function in reviewing qualifying papers. In
determining whether a candidate is qualified, the filing officer shall review the qualifying papers to determine whether all items required by paragraph (a) have been properly filed and whether each item is complete on its face, including whether items that must be verified have been properly verified pursuant to s. 92.525(1)(a). The filing officer may not determine whether the contents of the qualifying papers are accurate.”
When evaluating if residency requirements are met, our office refers to the Supervisor’s Handbook on Candidate Qualifying which states,
“Ultimately, whether a candidate or office holder is a resident is a determination for a court and not for a qualifying officer. A key element of residency is the intent of the individual. No single piece of evidence is decisive in determining residency. A person’s legal residence is wherever a person intends to make a permanent domicile, which can be factually supported. Examples of evidence that may be considered in determining whether legal residency has been established include drivers’ license, tax receipts, bank accounts, homestead exemption documents, the relocation of personal effects, and the purchase or rental of property.”
The Florida Division of Elections has published DE Reference Guide 0008, Guidelines for Determining When Residency Qualifications for Elected Office Must be Met (attached). While the timeline for meeting residency requirements varies by the office sought, this reference guide states that school board members must meet residency requirements at the time of qualifying and cites Florida Statutes 1001.34 and 1001.361.
The information provided by our office regarding maps is consistent. The process of redistricting is long and complex; and one must differentiate between district maps, precinct maps and precinct tables.
Benoit resp.: Mrs. Adkins specifically told me “your precinct has changed moving you outside of the district.”
It is important to note that our office can only begin implementing district lines once ALL agencies have adopted their lines. This includes any resolution of litigation dealing with the state house, senate, or congressional lines. (The congressional district lines were finalized on April 21, 2022.)
The district map was adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in December 2021. Prior to the adoption, a website was published, and hearings were held to solicit public input.
Our office published a post on our social media platforms on December 2, 2021, advising that the BOCC would be adopting new district lines on December 13. We advised voters they could view their current district by visiting our website and that they could view the redistricted plans for Nassau County on the county’s website.
Florida Statute provides the Nassau County School Board the option of drawing its own district lines. The Nassau County School Board adopted Resolution 1354 on December 9, 2021, where they determined that school board district lines would be congruent with BOCC district lines.
Upon adoption of the district map by the Board of County Commissioners, the map was sent to our vendor to convert the data and prepare it so that precinct lines could be drawn. This process took place between January and March.
In early April, we posted the “option 3” district map (adopted by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on December 13, 2021) to our website showing the newly adopted district lines. (As a cost-savings matter, our office works with the Property Appraiser’s Office regarding the production printing of maps.) The “option 3” district map was replaced with the May 2022 district map as soon as we received it from the Property Appraiser’s office.
Our office presented the proposed precinct lines to the Board of County Commissioners on May 9, 2022. Upon their approval, our office posted the revised precinct map on our website in early May. BOCC approval of the precinct map also allowed us to update the precinct table in our voter registration database. This process took place on May 15.
Benoit resp.: The interesting factor is when were the maps updated on the SOE’s website. They were not correct on 4/18.
Upon updating the voter registration database, all Nassau County voters were mailed a new voter information card on May 31 showing their new precinct number and polling location.
Our office strives to communicate with all Nassau County voters through our website and social media outlets:
May 10, 2022: Post on social media regarding the BOCC approval of precinct lines.
May 31, 2022: Post on social media regarding the new voter information cards.
June 3, 2022: Post on social media regarding the district lines for Districts 4 and 5. This post was in response to several calls that our office received from voters
questioning why they were now in district 4 when traditionally they had
been in district 5, Callahan.
Each of these posts can be viewed from our homepage at www.VoteNassauFL.gov.
Doug Miller, Citizen reporter, is an itinerant free spirit and jack of all trades. Born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico, he now operates Quality Home Services in Fernandina Beach and dreams of the next hurricane swell.