Ever since Nov. 3, 2020, a lot of people have been questioning the integrity of America’s elections. Never mind a lack of evidence. Never mind dozens and dozens of court rulings dismissing such claims. Never mind election officials and elected officials alike —of both parties — declaring the 2020 election the most secure and accurate ever. Yet, the unfounded claims of voter fraud drone on and on. Alas, if you tell a lie enough times, people will start believing it, right?
Well, if there is any concern over the integrity of our elections in Ocala, you’d never know it by looking at the ballot for the Sept. 21 municipal elections. Fifteen people are running for city office — two for mayor and 13 for four of the five City Council seats.
Concerns about election integrity? Not here, apparently.
Wesley Wilcox, Marion County’s venerable elections supervisor, said it is the largest city ballot he has seen in his 20 years of working in the county elections office and he believes that is a testament to peoples’ faith in the election process.
“I think it shows just by their actions that people trust our elections,” he said. “Because if you didn’t trust it, why would you be running?”
Wilcox said turnout for a typical city election usually runs around 10-12 percent. But because this year’s city election features two well-known mayoral candidates in incumbent Kent Guinn and challenger Manal Fakhoury, and four of the five council seats are up for consideration, he believes “there is a decent shot” to see a much bigger turnout, say, somewhere around 25 percent.
Part of the reason for the abundance of candidates is that District 4 City Councilman Matt Wardell announced earlier this summer that he was resigning midterm, creating the need for a special election for his seat.
Here are the candidates for Ocala mayor and City Council. The mayor earns $500 a month and serves a two-year term. City Council members earn $200 a month and serve four-year terms.
Mayor: Five-term incumbent Kent Guinn and community activist Manal Fakhoury.
District 1 (an at-large seat that serves the entire city): Incumbent Brent Malever and construction company executive Barry Mansfield.
District 3 (serving southwest Ocala): Incumbent Jay Musleh, a banker, electrical contractor Ty Schlichter and hair salon owner Rusty Juergens.
District 4 (Wardell’s seat, serving downtown Ocala and surrounding neighborhoods): real estate broker Kristen Dreyer, fencing contractor Alex Everts, retired human resources executive and ex-county commissioner Barbara Fitos, filmmaker and anti-vaccination activist Lori Gregory, pastor and advocate for the poor Curtis Jones and software developer Kevin Lopez.
District 5 (serving east and southeast Ocala): electrical contractor Greg Steen and Jim Hilty, a former city councilman and a financial advisor.
Quite a line-up. Quite a testament to just how robust and healthy our election system is.
Wilcox noted that with four of five City Council seats up for voter consideration, not to mention the mayor’s office, voters need to pay attention and, most importantly, participate.
“You’ve got 80 percent of this important decision-making body that will be chosen,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
Yes, a really big deal.
The deadline to register to vote in the city election is Aug. 23. Requests for mail-in ballots need to be in by Aug. 13.
The election, again, will be held Sept. 21.
Seems like our election system is more than alive and well.