In early November, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council welcomed three members of the Serbian national assembly as part of an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project focusing on U.S. elections. The group spent Election Day in Pensacola and gained many insights into the campaign and elections process at the local level. Their first full day of meetings was the day before the election.
Mr. Todd Thomson gave an overview of election dynamics including Florida’s role as a swing state and voting patterns to watch within the state. Then, the group sat in on a canvassing board meeting at the Supervisor of Elections Office where Deputy Supervisor of Elections Sonya Daniel and Outreach Coordinator Brandi Ziglar spoke about their roles and the early voting process. While the group watched the canvassing board in action, Supervisor of Elections David Stafford, Circuit Judge Darlene Dickey, and Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson spoke about their work on the board and the process by which votes are tabulated.
Discussion turned to the role of the media in covering campaigns and elections when the group met with Independent News Publisher Rick Outzen. Mr. Outzen also shared the process by which newspapers can endorse a candidate.
After lunch downtown, the visitors hit the road, visiting both the Trump and Clinton local campaign offices for insight into campaign work, including managing volunteers and voter outreach through phone calls and door-to-door canvasing. Deputy Political Director Zach Michael and Campaign Office Manager Jarod Workman met with the visitors at the Trump campaign office. Regional Field Director Regi Partee welcomed the group at the Clinton campaign office.
On Election Day, City Council President Charles Bare engaged the group with a discussion of campaigns and local government. The visitors were delighted to receive certificates of honorary citizenship presented on behalf of the City of Pensacola and Mayor Ashton Hayward at the conclusion of the meeting.
During a community coffee discussion held at Seville Quarter, locals and IVLP visitors enjoyed sharing perspectives on the election and getting to know each other. Thank you to Bill Brown, Bob Moulton, Ellen Roston, Roxolana Slobodian, John Toole, and Jeannine Van Reeth for attending.
After the coffee, the group returned to the Supervisor of Elections Office, where David Stafford spoke about the role of the office in ensuring a transparent, secure, and fair voting process. He also highlighted the methods by which citizens can vote in Escambia County and how ballots are counted.
As the end of Election Day approached, the group visited the University of West Florida (UWF) for a discussion with members of the UWF College Republicans. Chair Charlotte Davis, along with several of her colleagues in the organization, spoke about the organization’s on-campus involvement and shared political perspectives with the visitors.
The group returned downtown and joined locals at a Diplomacy Club mixer. As results began to trickle in from the first states, the visitors said goodbye and headed once again to the Supervisor of Elections Office to watch local results displayed as the polls closed in Escambia County. They next went to a local watch party to follow the steady rollout of state-by-state results that define American presidential election nights.
The Serbian visitors also had time for cultural exploration and traditional Southern hospitality by attending the Festival Latino and joining locals for dinner one evening. Suzanne and Randle Carpenter, joined by their friends Louis and Sandy Cesaretti Ray, hosted the visitors for a home-cooked meal and good conversation. The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council thanks them, and all who participated in this project, for their role in ensuring a successful IVLP experience for the visiting parliamentarians.
At the canvassing board