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Monday, June 24, 2024

First Black Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton works to restore trust

Barton deals with growing voter misinformation

Growing up in a segregated Memphis, Tennessee, a young Kim Barton would go door to door with her family, asking neighbors if they needed a ride to the polls.

As the first Black person to be elected Alachua County’s Supervisor of Elections, Barton, 60, said she’s come full circle since then.

“Going to vote was something that, as Black people,” she said, “we could not afford to just sit back and not do it, given the history and the climate of the day.” 

Before being elected to her first term in 2016 and reelected in 2020, Barton served as the office’s outreach coordinator — a role designed for her because of her previous experience with One Church One Child of Florida, finding homes for Black kids in the foster system. 

Barton was there for the launch of the office’s website and Facebook, while she explained elections to high school students and the elderly alike.

Outreach is one of the most important aspects of an Alachua County election, she said, because college students face the extra task of ensuring they’re registered to vote in Alachua County even though it’s not their hometown. 

“When you're going from county to county, that requires some additional things and that may hold them up in the line because they [have] to fill out a voter registration form,” she said. “That doesn't happen automatically.”

In 2019, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office was recognized by the national Election Center for its efforts registering students to vote. Barton filmed three commercials with then-president Kent Fuchs, educating students about early voting.

She also oversaw the opening of an early voting site at the Reitz Union. Out of all the college campuses that held early voting polls, she said, UF had the highest turnout that general election.

One of the biggest highlights of her time in office is connecting with the community, Barton said.

When she was doing outreach at a recreation center, a Black man in his 80s approached Barton, asking her to help him register to vote. He was ashamed he hadn’t.

Barton worked alongside him to get him registered.

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“He voted for the first time, and that was the year former President Obama ran for office,” she said. “He got to vote in that election, and he came to see me and he just had tears in his eyes. … It doesn't matter when you start. … Exercise your right to vote.”

However, some don’t have that same faith in the Supervisor of Elections’ office, she said.

“There's been so much misinformation that people don't trust,” she said.

According to a study conducted by the Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey, 57% of white Americans said they believed there was some level of voter fraud present in the 2020 presidential election. 

Aaron Klein, the office’s spokesperson, said Barton manages this by ensuring the office is all on the same page.

“Some of that is thinking bigger picture,” he said. “What do we want to use our limited resources on to inform voters? … Supervisor Barton is fantastic at this for planning ahead for anticipating some of those challenges.”

While people used to flock to keep Barton in check on election night, she said live tallying of votes rid the office of its larger crowds. Now, people call Barton personally to share their opinions.

“I've had people call me and chew me out,” Barton said. “I have gotten to the point where I just let them talk. And then I will explain, ‘No, you have been misinformed. Let me explain it to you.’”

Another obstacle Barton faced was unexpectedly losing the office’s Chief Deputy Supervisor of Elections William Boyett, who died in 2021.

“It's just hard not having the person who has the historical knowledge,” she said. “But we made it through.”

Elections nationwide have become ugly in the past few years, and Barton said some of her staff also quit amid the rising tensions.

There’s no off year for the office, she said. Because of that, her work hours aren’t always feasible. Some days end at 3 a.m., which Barton said is just part of the job.

But Barton’s family respects her being a public official, she said.

When she’s out with her husband, Barton said, sometimes people ask her questions, and her husband knows to step away. 

“There are people who will say, ‘I'm with my family. I'm not working right now. Don't ask me.’ I could never do that. It's just not who I am,” she said.

Through the difficulties she endures, though, her family remains her biggest supporter, she said.

One time she cited this was when she was first elected and took her oath of office. Though her father had passed, she said it was an honorable experience.

“It was a proud moment for my mother and my brother who [were] there to see it, to witness it,” she said, “To be the first Supervisor of Elections of color … I consider it a privilege and an honor to serve everyone.”

Contact Lauren at Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBrensel.

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Lauren Brensel

Lauren Brensel is a journalism sophomore and a metro reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she's found going on mental health walks, being silly with friends, hiding from the public and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.

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