Election on alcohol referendum will be January 21

WASHINGTON COUNTY – Washington County voters now have a date for the election that will potentially change the county’s status from dry to wet, but some local residents say they take issue with the ballots being cast via mail rather than in-person.

County commissioners set the election date for Jan. 26 when they met in regular session Tuesday; however, that date is expected to be changed to Jan. 21 to ensure compliance with state statute, which requires the election be held within 60 days of application being made to the board of commissioners. Commissioners will officially change the election date when they meet again in regular session on Dec. 16.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Brandon Lovering presented the certified petition letter to the board on behalf of political action committee Advance Washington County and requested the election be set using mail-out ballots.

Commissioners heard public input prior to taking the vote. Chief among concerns voiced by residents was the use of the vote-by-mail method.

“A democratic republic is founded on the concept of an educated and informed electorate that cares enough about their communities to show up and vote,” said resident Ted Spangenberg, Jr. “Caring citizens, the ones that I want driving the decisions in this county, are willing to come out and vote.”

Richard Smelser, Pastor of Blue Lake Baptist Church, expressed a similar view, adding that he believes the optics of a mail-in vote would cast a shadow on the election’s integrity.

“Everything about this – while completely legal ­– has been sketchy, sneaky, and underhanded,” said Smelser. “Now you’re considering an exclusively mail-in ballot on this initiative. There is a legal means to do this, but if you really wanna have a clear picture of what the people want, then make them show up at the polls with an ID.”

“A completely mail-in vote will always carry a question mark,” he added. “There has been virtually no integrity shown throughout this process, but it’s not too late to start now. Do the right thing and require in-person voting.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to set the election date, as well as to approve the vote-by-mail method. Per Florida statute, mail-out elections are permitted when the ballot does not include candidates for office.

The referendum will need a marjority of 50 percent-plus 1 vote to pass.

Vote-by-mail ballots will come to voters with pre-paid return envelopes; however, completed ballots may also be returned to the Elections Office in person.