Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office
The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office is quiet on the outside but full of frenzied activity on the inside as election season heats up.

Judge’s role on local canvassing board ensures fairness of election process

Tabulation Machine A ballot tabulating machine is seen in the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office. Canvassing board members are present while the machines are tested for accuracy.

There has been much discussion surrounding U.S. elections, which is why it’s important to understand exactly what happens after someone drops their ballot in the box. In fact, the judicial branch plays an integral part in the voting process.

Many people are familiar with the role judges have in a courtroom, but their purposes and responsibilities don’t end at the courthouse steps. Judges play positive parts in the daily life of our communities, especially during election season when they lead their local canvassing boards to ensure votes are properly counted.

Because voting is a right afforded to citizens, it’s fitting that a judge, a person sworn to protect rights, uphold and interpret the law, is the one who chairs a local canvassing board. According to the Florida Division of Elections, the canvassing board is charged by law with a number of activities in the conduct of elections and ascertainment of results.

The Twelfth Circuit county court judges filling the role of chair in their respective counties are:

“Elections are the cornerstone of this great country,” said Sarasota County Court Judge Erika Quartermaine.

“As the chair of the Sarasota County Canvassing Board, I want the public to know that ensuring the legitimacy and fairness of the election process is a duty I take very seriously and one with which I exercise the greatest of care. It is an honor to serve in this capacity,” Quartermaine said.

DeSoto County Judge Danielle Brewer said she considers her role as chair of the canvassing board to be one of her most important responsibilities as county judge. “Not only is it the board’s responsibility to ensure that every vote is counted, but it is also the board’s responsibility to instill confidence in the public that the process is above reproach,” Brewer said.

“As the only non-partisan member of the Canvassing Board, the county judge’s role is imperative to preserving a fair elections process and to prevent even the appearance of impropriety. Just as judges are required to be unbiased arbiters of the law in the courtroom, this, too, is our role as canvassing board chair,” Brewer said.

In case their court docket keeps them from election duties, each judge has an alternate, so (DeSoto County) Circuit Court Judge Don Hall, Manatee County Court Judge Mark Singer and Sarasota County Court Judge Maryann Uzabel have been busier than usual as they cover for their colleagues at the elections office.

Chief Judge Kimberly Bonner appointed retired Manatee County Court Judge Robert Farrance to serve as an alternate to Manatee County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, who was appointed as an alternate to Mike Bennett, Manatee County’s Supervisor of Elections, because he is running for re-election and is therefore ineligible to serve on the canvassing board this year.

“As the statutorily required chairperson of the canvassing board, the county judge represents the only and truly impartial branch of government (Judiciary) vested with the power to certify elections,” said retired Manatee County Court Judge Robert Farrance.

“For this reason, the judge usually is the final vote on decisions made by the three-member canvassing board, composed of the county Supervisor of Elections and the County Commission chairperson. Integrity in the certification of ballot recognition and ballot count is the heart and soul of our Founding Fathers’ creation of our democratic principles,” Farrance said.

Judge Erika Quartermaine and Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner
Sarasota County Judge Erika Quartermaine, pictured with Ron Turner, Sarasota County’s Supervisor of Elections, are seen during Judge Quartermaine’s canvassing board shift. The board members alternate days to accommodate the members’ work schedules.
Judge Inman Manatee County Judge Renee Inman is seen covering her canvassing board shift at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office.
Sarasota County Court Judge Maryann Uzabel Sarasota County Judge Maryann Uzabel, Judge Quartermaine’s alternate, is seen canvassing ballots for the November 3 general election.

To canvass, according to Merriam-Webster, means to “examine in detail; specifically: to examine (votes) officially for authenticity.”

In addition to a county court judge, rounding out a canvassing board is the supervisor of elections and the chair of the board of county commissioners. Board members are required to attend training workshops (e.g., reading/comparing signatures) and observe testing of the voting equipment.

The three board members determine together whether to count or reject a ballot; determine or resolve discrepancies during a recount; certify election results after tabulation; and certify the post-election audit of the voting process.

County Court Judge Renee Inman chairs the Manatee County Canvassing Board. “Voting is one of our most important civic rights and duties, and it is how we select our representative in government.”

“As a member of the canvassing board I am involved in protecting the integrity of the voting process in Manatee County, ensuring that every ballot cast in accordance with Florida law is counted,” Inman said.

At least one board member is present when elections employees address the vote-by-mail ballots. Elections employees carefully inspect the mailing envelopes before they are opened, matching the voter’s signature with the signature on file. If the signature matches, the mailing envelope is ready to be opened and the ballot is ready to be tabulated. If the signature does not match, the voter is notified and is given an opportunity to address the issue.

If there is still any question regarding a voter’s signature, the unopened envelope is presented to the canvassing board.

In order for the canvassing board to reject a vote-by-mail ballot based on a mismatched signature, it must be by a majority vote and beyond a reasonable doubt.

Canvassing board members ensure that all vote-by-mail ballots are counted by comparing the number of ballots in possession with the number of requests for ballots received.

“The Canvassing Board does all of its work in public, with notice to the public, and our decisions are made by majority, so, at least 2 out of the 3 members,” Inman said.

“We, at times, work with members of the public literally watching over our shoulders, and have discussed the board’s duties with members of the media and the public,” Inman said.

The canvassing board’s work is crucial to strengthen trust in our democratic process and safeguards a free and fair election. To uphold the integrity of the election process, the canvassing board takes the time to review ballots and ensures that each vote is properly counted.

Maryann UzabelSarasota County Court Judge

On Election Day, the canvassing board is tasked with reporting vote-by-mail and early voting results to the Department of State within 30 minutes after the polls close.

Every 45 minutes after that, the canvassing board members report updated precinct election results – minus provisional ballots which require deeper inspection – until all results are complete.

The canvassing board then certifies the total number of votes cast for each person nominated or elected, the names of persons for whom such votes were cast, and the number of votes for each candidate or nominee, and that information is transmitted to the Department of State.


Within seven days of certifying the election results, the canvassing board randomly selects precincts and completes an independent, automated or manual audit of the voting system. If the canvassing board opts to manually audit, they need only count one race from one precinct, counting all election-day, vote-by-mail, early voting, provisional, and overseas ballots from 1-2% of the precincts. Automated audits count all votes cast across every race on the ballot from at least 20% of the precincts.

Fifteen days after the completion of the audit, the canvassing board reports the results to the Department of State, noting the accuracy of the audit, a description of any problems or discrepancies and what may have caused them, as well as any corrective action that will avoid or mitigate such circumstances in future elections.

Sarasota County Court Judge Maryann Uzabel said, “The canvassing board’s work is crucial to strengthen trust in our democratic process and safeguards a free and fair election. To uphold the integrity of the election process, the canvassing board takes the time to review ballots and ensures that each vote is properly counted.”

County canvassing board duties is another way the judicial branch plays a role that benefits us all.

For more information on Florida elections, visit the Department of State’s Division of Elections.

Manatee County Canvassing Board
The Manatee County canvassing board discusses vote-by-mail ballots. Judge Renee Inman (second from left) is chair of the canvassing board. Recently retired County Court Judge Robert Farrance, first from left, is the alternate canvassing board member for Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, who is unable to serve because he’s running for re-election.