What Florida Election Officials Need to Know About Campaign Finance
City clerk’s offices tend to rely on paper-based processes to handle the increasingly cumbersome task of campaign finance management. In this Q&A, Ron Davis, the CEO and co-founder of EasyVote Solutions, discusses how electronic reporting systems provide greater efficiency and transparency.
Q. Describe the situation in Florida today regarding the collection of campaign finance data.
When we look at campaign finance in the United States as a whole, transparency in the collection of that data has become more important. Every election cycle, everybody wants to be able to dig into the data and understand where candidates are getting their money or spending their money.
And if we look at the State of Florida, whether it’s at the state level or down to the city level, this transparency is also very important. But most of the cities are carrying this out through manual, paper-based processes: A candidate will download a report, [print it], fill it out and turn it in that way. That’s the world we live in. It’s not the most efficient process, to say the least — nor does it provide enough transparency.
Q. How does this push for greater campaign finance transparency fit in with broader trends about government accountability?
We live in an instant-access world. We want information, and we want it right now. That’s true whether it’s the media, other candidates, special interest groups or the public. They all want to see that data [instantaneously].
With electronic filing, that information can be automatically posted to a website for public search. What we’ve tried to do is not only produce the document itself, but provide various options on how to search the data within a document. That’s becoming a very popular request.
Q. Aside from transparency, what are some of the main benefits of electronic campaign finance reporting?
From the candidates’ [perspective], the biggest benefit is that they can file at the last minute if they need to. Having the ability to file electronically on the last day, at the very last hour, is a big convenience. They need to collect a lot of data, and this gives them flexibility if they need it.
On the receiving side, which in this case is the City Clerk’s office, it comes down to saving time. They are the custodians of these records, and they have to produce them for the public. They also have many other responsibilities. Anything that streamlines the process is going to help them.
Q. What impact has the pandemic had on the process of gathering and sharing campaign finance information?
It’s been huge. [Traditionally], you have candidates coming into an office to file documents and you have the public coming into the office requesting copies of those documents. In many cases last year, these offices were just shut down. City Clerks and their staff were working out of their houses or wherever, so they couldn’t complete that process the way it had been [done in the past]. But all of that [still] has to be done. There are still filing deadlines throughout the year.
Being able to conduct that whole process electronically — the initial candidate filing, the clerk accepting the filing, having it automatically posted to a website — streamlined everything so there was no human interaction.