Following nearly 10 years of work in federal affairs, David Stafford was elected Escambia County Supervisor of Elections in 2004. Stafford, a native son of Escambia County, was drawn to public service by his family’s tradition of such work and his own involvement in political campaigns. With this background as a foundation, David successfully transitioned into his new role with the support of a strong staff and has continued to win re-election since taking office.
Despite being thrust into the world of elections administration during a period of sweeping and transformative change, Stafford quickly established himself as a respected member of the election administrator community. He previously served as the President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections and currently acts as Legislative Chair of the National Association of Election Officials. In addition to his membership on the Overseas Voting Initiative Working Group, he has served in multiple sector-specific roles on the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
To each of these roles, Stafford brings a wealth of unique experience informed by the challenges he has faced throughout his tenure in office. In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – one of the more notable federal overhauls of state elections infrastructure. Despite only having been in office for two years, Stafford and his team successfully navigated Escambia County’s implementation of Florida’s new statewide voter registration system and the acquisition of accessible voting equipment for voters with disabilities.
Further incorporation of new technologies into elections infrastructure has not subsided since the implementation of HAVA. For example, David has overseen the implementation of ballot marking devices, an online voter registration system and electronic pollbooks, among other things. Although advancements in elections technology have significantly streamlined many formerly cumbersome processes, these technologies require operators with increasingly advanced technical skills. For Stafford, seeking out and hiring such staff often has posed a significant challenge.
Furthermore, with each new technology rollout comes the need to train staff on new procedures and educate the public on such changes. In many jurisdictions, voters often express reservations regarding the security and efficacy of a new technology. According to Stafford, his role as the Supervisor of Elections is to address these reservations head-on through enhancing the transparency of his office’s operations. While in office, David has personally overseen the development of voter resources on the county elections website, enhanced their social media presence with fact-based content and generated informational videos to disseminate online. Stafford’s reputation as an honest broker within his community further promotes transparency between voters and his office.
While many election officials experience the challenges posed by the ever-changing landscape of elections technology, Stafford’s expertise as Supervisor has been uniquely informed by one of the few immutable characteristics of any given election – the location of his jurisdiction. Spanning the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Escambia County is frequently battered by hurricanes and other extreme weather conditions. Most recently, David and his staff were tasked with administering the 2020 general election following a direct hit from Hurricane Sally in September that inflicted major damage to election facilities and polling locations across the county. A second hurricane, Zeta, forced a brief suspension of early voting in order to protect voters and poll workers.
Although David’s contingency protocols helped prevent a significant reduction in the number of early voting options available, he attributes much of his jurisdiction’s resilience to the support from the wider election community. Numerous colleagues throughout the country reached out, offering additional resources and expertise. With many jurisdictions having previously conducted primaries throughout the coronavirus pandemic, these officials were able to share best practices and lessons learned to help David ensure voting could be carried out efficiently and in line with public health protocols.
Only after the final votes were cast and the results tallied was the success of this collaboration made clear. According to Escambia County records, approximately 77% of votes were cast before election day in the 2020 general election. This constituted an increase of more than 26% from the 2016 general election despite similar levels of voter turnout. As these figures demonstrate, Stafford and his office were able to mitigate the impacts of the recent hurricanes and successfully accommodate the shifting voting patterns of his County’s residents that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic.
David Stafford’s experience conducting safe and secure elections in the face of significant obstacles has re-enforced a reputation for efficient and effective leadership among election administrators. The impact of the improvements he has made while in office have been felt by voters in his jurisdiction and in communities throughout the country as fellow officials learn from his lived experiences. Rather than be revered for this work, Stafford hopes to be one among many future officeholders who lead with a voter-centric approach and an unrelenting pursuit of forward progress.