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Democrats chide Scott even after state drops plans for voter purge

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Gov. Rick Scott administration’s decision Thursday to drop a controversial plan to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from state rolls drew revived attacks from Democrats who had long opposed the effort dubbed Project Integrity.

“This was a mistake from the beginning, and part of a pattern of throwing up roadblocks for Floridians attempting to hold government accountable,” said Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, who is Scott’s leading re-election rival.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said, “”While this move is clearly an act of damage-control from a campaign in chaos, this represents a major victory for the people of Florida who have suffered so many voter suppression efforts under the Rick Scott administration.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Thursday that he was delaying plans to conduct the voter review before this year’s election because of technical issues  involving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Minority organizations and voter rights groups for months have been urging Scott’s office to drop the review, accusing the governor of trying to shed black- and Hispanic-voters from state rolls.

Detzner, though, said the decision was only made after Homeland Security officials began revamping the data base in an effort not expected to be finished until next year.

 

 

Third week of session brings third round of anti-GOP protests

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Sara Hutchinson of Catholics for Choice and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, at Monday's rally.

The opening of the third week of the legislative session brought its third wave of protests Monday, this time featuring organizations attacking what speakers call a continuing attack on women’s health issues by the state’s Republican leaders.

Led by Planned Parenthood and Catholics for Choice, about 50 demonstrators crowded the Capitol Rotunda to condemn the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and also for advancing a half-dozen bills which they say undermine abortion rights in Florida.

The abortion bills, which include an outright ban and other measures aimed at raising the standard for fetal viability, have been around for a few years in Florida. Republican leaders have not made the legislation a priority, and it seems unlikely they will become a flashpoint this session.

But the bills remain a rallying point for Democrats looking to ignite voters this fall.

Monday’s rally followed similar events by organized by the NAACP of Florida and other groups the first two weeks of the session, which attacked Republican policies in general and specifically called for repeal of the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.

“We keep seeing the same bills filed and we keep seeing the same bills move,” said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, among those speaking at Monday’s rally. “The public outside this building is not aware of where Republicans stand when it comes to women’s health care. I think they need a wake-up call.

“We have one more election this year where people might finally get that wake-up call,” he added.

 

Pafford and NAACP blast Scott for voter purge

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

 

The latest attempt by the Gov. Rick Scott administration to remove ineligible voters from the rolls drew heat Monday from the Florida NAACP and incoming House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

In a state where Democrats still hold a significant voter edge over ruling Republicans, the governor up for re-election this fall has been focused on the voter rolls since 2012. Earlier attempts to purge voter rolls have been met with lawsuits and opposition from election supervisors, but the governor ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August to renew the effort.

Detzner announced last month that the state was poised to move forward in coming weeks with a review based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Advocates on Monday said they have concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting elibility of many recent immigrants. NAACP officials said the move also looks designed to remove black voters from the rolls.

“It was a conspiracy then (in 2012) and it’s a conspiracy now,” said Dale Landry, a vice president with the Florida NAACP, saying the state wasted more than $100,000 on its initial attempt.

“We are doing the same thing. People need to get angry,” he added.

Pafford said the effort by the Scott administration seems “cyclical, running parallel to election cycles.”

Scott ordered Detzner to renew scrutiny of state voter rolls after the U.S. Supreme Court last summer overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act, freeing Florida and most southern states of federal oversight of their election laws.

Election Supervisors said the SAVE system is more reliable. Detzner also has said that any final decisions about a voter’s eligibility will rest with county supervisors, with anyone targeted for possible removal having plenty of opportunities to appeal a ruling.

Detzner spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said, ““Secretary Detzner worked with the Legislature last year to make effective changes to elections laws to give Florida’s eligible voters more access including increasing voting hours and expanding early voting locations. These changes will increase voter opportunities because his priority is for 100 percent of voters to vote and that zero percent fraud is found in elections. Integrity of the voter rolls must be upheld to ensure that elections are accurate, efficient and fair.”

Report: Ease of voting varies widely across Florida counties

Monday, December 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Palm Beach County landed in the middle of the pack in a statewide analysis released Monday that looked at the best and worst counties in Florida for voting accessibility.

Palm Beach has been home to some historic mess-ups – ranging from the 2000 butterfly ballot to last year’s days-long delay in counting absentee and provisional ballots from the November election.

But the report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund ranked Palm Beach County 17th in a worst-to-first summary of overall voting performance in Florida’s 40th largest counties. Columbia County was rated the state’s worst while St. Johns County drew the highest marks.

“People are having dramatically different voting experiences based on the county in which they are registered,” said Tom Perriello, president and CEO of the fund, a public policy research organization founded by John Podesta, a former chief-of-staff to President Bill Clinton.

In its Florida report, the fund reviewed county performance across nine categories.

Among them were wait times for voters, the percentage of voting-age population registered, overall turnout compared to the rest of the state, minority turnout, and the number of provisional and absentee ballots counted or rejected.

Brad Ashwell, with Common Cause of Florida, who participated in a conference call Monday announcing the findings, said the report should help shape election law decisions in coming months. He said it shouldn’t be viewed as “hostile toward supervisors.”

“We want to work with them to improve elections over the next decade,” Ashwell said.

Among those also speaking was Sonya Gibson, a volunteer with the Florida New Majority, who recounted the trouble she had in casting a vote in West Palm Beach last November.

Gibson said she stood in line for nine hours at an early voting site before giving up the day before the election, and another 10 hours at a polling place before finally voting.

“I believe voting is a fundamental right,” Gibson said. “And it should be easier to access for me and members of my community.”

Election year school funding proposal earns nothing but shrug from Senate

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

After Rick Scott pushed $1 billion increases in school funding the past two years, Senate Republicans were unimpressed Wednesday by the state Education Department’s proposal for a $386.6 million boost in 2014, when the governor will be running for re-election.

The recommendation would bump up per-pupil spending by a modest 1.87 percent, or $126.77 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million students.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, quizzed state officials who presented the spending proposal to the Senate’s education budget committee. He said that with rising insurance and transportation costs rippling through school districts, the increase could quickly disappear.

The budget panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said spending talks are at an early stage. But he was hesitant about making big promises for the election-year budget months before the Legislature convenes in March.

Galvano, though, said politics won’t be what drives the bottom line.

“We’re going to base the budget on what’s needed, and in an efficient and effective manner,” Galvano said. “It’s not going to be based on politics. Last year, there was a substantial increase” largely attributed to $480 million earmarked for teacher pay raises.

State educators, though, did seem to make a concession to Scott’s push for holding the line on college and university tuition increase. Neither proposal outlined Wednesday by the state’s college system and Board of Governors includes a proposed tuition hike.

Dems blister Scott on first day of huddles with elections chiefs

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats marked the opening of discussions between state officials and county elections supervisors Thursday by condemning Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republicans for what they call their latest attempt at voter suppression.

“They are going to use every tool at their disposal,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s another example of how Rick Scott and his Republican friends can’t win elections on their merits.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was scheduled to meet Thursday in Panama City with elections supervisors from the Panhandle as part of the agency’s revived effort to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from the state’s elections rolls. The state has called the review, Project Integrity.

Detzner has scheduled roundtables with county supervisors today through Oct. 9 to draw input on how to proceed. The Oct. 9 hearing is expected to draw supervisors from South Florida and is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center.

Democrats, though, say the administration’s pre-election year push unfairly targets minority voters who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Wasserman Schultz pointed out that President Obama carried 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 95 percent of the black vote in Florida in last year’s election.

Minority and voting rights groups earlier this month called on Scott to drop the review of voter rolls, saying the database the state intends to use is flawed.

Scott plans to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — list to conduct the review. Several county election supervisors already have raised concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting eligibility of many recent immigrants.

Relying on another database, Scott last year attempted to remove noncitizens, initially disclosing a pool of 182,000 names of potential noncitizens later reduced to a list of 2,600. Those named were sent to election supervisors, who found many were in fact eligible voters.

In the end, the list of possible noncitizen voters shrank to 198. Elections officials found that about 40 had voted illegally.

A Public Policy Polling survey released this week showed Scott drawing his lowest approval ratings in Florida from Hispanic and black voters. The poll showed expected Florida Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, leading Scott by a 12-point margin if they faced off next year.

Crist draws overwhelming support from black voters and tops Scott by 12 percentage points among Hispanic voters, the poll showed.

Secretary of State plans meetings with supervisors on voter roll review

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Amid rising pushback from county election supervisors to Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to revive efforts to remove noncitizens from Florida voter rolls, Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Wednesday a series of meetings with these officials.

The voter roll review and series of roundtable meetings is being called Project Integrity.

“I am embarking on the Project Integrity roundtable tour to collaborate with supervisors to protect the integrity of our voter rolls,” Detzner said.

“Through transparency and the statutory due process protection afforded to every voter, we can ensure the continued integrity of our voter rolls while protecting the voting rights of eligible voters from those who may cast an illegal vote,” he added. ”Our elections process must uphold the integrity of local voter rolls, and I look forward to the participation from
supervisors of elections to strengthen our elections statewide.”

Detzner has scheduled roundtables with county supervisors Oct. 3 through Oct. 9 that are designed for the state to draw input on how to proceed with the effort to remove noncitizens from state voter rolls.

The Oct. 9 hearing is expected to draw supervisors from South Florida and is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center.

Detzner’s announcement comes a day after minority and voter rights organizations urged Scott to drop the review, warning that the database he plans to use is flawed.

Scott intends to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — list to conduct the review. Several county election supervisors already have raised concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting elibility of many recent immigrants.

 

Will Zimmerman verdict echo in Florida’s ’14 elections? Activists attempt to make sure it does

Monday, July 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s “stand your ground” law has emerged as a powerful political symbol in the wake of the George Zimmerman case, with Democratic-allied activists looking to carry the issue into next year’s elections as a sign of Republican leadership working to oppress minorities.

Like the 2011 changes made to the state’s voting laws by Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature, organizations say the self-defense law mostly threatens poor, black and young Floridians.

Florida groups that used the voting measure as a rallying point to drive supporters of President Barack Obama and state Democratic candidates to the polls last fall are now organizing behind the call for repeal of stand your ground. Republicans are saying the push to change the law is a “misrepresentation” of the legal strategies in Zimmerman’s case.

“For many people, this is an example of just the type of policies Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott are pushing through in this state,” said Elbert Garcia, a spokesman for Florida New Majority, which worked last fall to encourage voting in black, Hispanic and low-income communities identified as less likely to cast ballots.

Florida New Majority is now assisting other veterans of the presidential campaign, such groups as the Miami Workers’ Center and PowerU Center in Miami in organizing activists angered by Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Full story:  http://bit.ly/15bhdZx

 

 

Florida House approves election package – again – sends back to Senate

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

The secretary of state won’t be able to punish elections supervisors under a modified elections package approved by the Florida House and sent to the Senate for final passage.

The Senate is expected to finalize the measure, which requires supervisors instead to post online a report of their preparations three months prior to the election, in one of the last actions before the 2013 session ends later this afternoon.

The Senate had wanted to give the secretary of state, appointed by the governor, the authority to put the locally elected officials on probation and force them to pass a test before being able to be removed from “noncompliant status.”

But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sided with the supervisors, who objected that Detzner already has the authority to review the local officials’ preparedness, give them written directions and take them to court if he believes they aren’t complying with the law.

Before the session began, Gov. Rick Scott, Weatherford, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pledged to do something to fix the long lines and up to eight-hour waits encountered by many voters last fall.

Under the plan expected to go to Scott for signature, supervisors can choose from between eight and 14 days of early voting and stay open from eight to 12 hours per day. The 2011 law, HB 1355, shrank early voting from 14 to 8 days. GOP insiders said the 2011 law was designed to cut back on Democratic turnout in the 2012 election, a reaction to Florida Democrats’ support for President Obama in 2008 that helped him into the White House.

This year’s proposal also gives supervisors more options for early voting sites, and would allow add civic centers, fairgrounds, courthouses and government-run senior centers to the city halls, public libraries and elections offices they can now use.

“Reform is never final…We should be ready always to come here and make adjustments if we can make things better,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsor of HB 1355.

Democrats applauded the effort but said it didn’t go far enough to reverse a 2011 elections package they blame for many of the problems.

Rep. Janet Cruz, who was the lead Democrat on the elections bill, called the effort “a very, very good big, big first step in solving the difficulties that our voters have faced.”

But, she added, “I want our citizens to know that we are not finished.”

Democrats contend that voters should still be allowed to change their addresses at the polls on election day. Current law, changed in 2011, requires voters who move outside of the county to cast provisional ballots – which have a greater likelihood of being tossed – if they don’t update their address before Election Day. Democrats contend that kept many college students from casting regular ballots in the fall.

The bill takes “solid steps” to “reform the deform that had happened” with HB 1355, incoming House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said. The bill isn’t “where we want to be but it’s better than where we are,” he said.

“Some of us feel like the bill hasn’t gone far enough. We want to go back to pre-1355,” Rouson said.

Deal on campaign finance, ethics doubles contributions

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida House and Senate leaders have reached a deal on campaign finance and ethics reforms, Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala announced on the floor this morning.

The agreement doubles the current $500-per-election cycle campaign contribution limit for local and legislative candidates and hikes the limit to $3,000 for statewide candidates and Supreme Court justices up for merit retention.

The bill (HB 569) also does away with committees of continuous existence, or “CCEs,” and replaces them political committees that can accept unlimited contributions.

The ethics and campaign finance reforms are the top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who wanted the campaign changes, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The Senate had balked at raising the contribution limits after Gov. Rick Scott, who spent more than $70 million of his own money financing his 2010 campaign for governor, indicated he did not support lifting the caps.

But Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said Wednesday his chamber agreed to the changes to get the House to pass the ethics proposal.

The new campaign limits put back caps in place before lawmakers imposed the lower amounts at the urging of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1992.

Latvala called the deal far better than the original House plan, which would have hiked the contribution limits to $10,000.

“You’re not going to be able to take money out of politics,” he said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate money to flood campaigns with cash means that “we are heading in the direction of unlimited money in politics,” Latvala, a veteran campaign consultant, said. “So the best we’re going to be able to do in the long run is provide the transparency to go with that, to have good reporting.”

The measure would also require more reporting of campaign finances, including daily reporting in the final week leading up to an election “where a lot of the monkey shines go on,” Latvala said.

The proposal would also allow candidates to “rollover” $20,000 after a campaign ends and hold onto that amount for up to two years.

Palm Beach County Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington cast the only “no” votes in the 37-2 tally.

“I couldn’t see myself going back to Palm Beach County and telling people that I voted to double the campaign contribution limits. I think that puts more money in the system and that’s the opposite direction that people want us to move in,” Clemens said.

And, he said, the allowing candidates to carry over $20,000 “puts challengers at a tremendous disadvantage.”

Lawmakers are expected to take final votes on both measures today and send them to Scott, meaning he would have just seven days to act on the bills. Scott has 15 days to act on bills received after the legislative session ends.

Former secretary of state calls Senate elections proposal ‘bad public policy’

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning called a provision included in the Senate’s election package yesterday allowing the secretary of state to dock election supervisors pay and essentially put them on probation “bad public policy.”

Browning served more than two decades as the Pasco County supervisor of elections before going to work for Gov. Charlie Crist as secretary of state in 2006. Browning stepped down from the post for the second time last year and was elected Pasco County schools superintendent in November.

Browning was in the Capitol on Wednesday for school superintendents’ meeting with his one-time boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

The provision included in the Senate plan on the floor Wednesday would allow Browning’s successor, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, to put supervisors on a minimum one-year “non-compliant status” if they don’t meet certain standards. And he could make them ineligible for yearly $2,000 bonuses available to all constitutional officers who meet certain annual training requirements.

“Show me another constitutional officer that has that kind of penalty. Granted, supervisors need to do their jobs just like superintendents, sheriffs, clerks, tax collectors, property appraisers. But (the state department) need to deal with individuals. They don’t need to be putting sanctions on an entire group. That’s my opinion,” Browning said.

Supervisors had supported the bill (HB 7013) but were livid over the amendment sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He said he came up with the plan in response to problems in five counties, including Palm Beach and St. Lucie, deemed “low-performing” by Detzner after the November elections.

Progressive groups decried another provision in the bill limiting voter assistance. Under the measure, someone could only give assistance to voters they know personally before Election Day and caps the number of people they can assist at 10. Advancement Project and other voting rights groups believe the provision is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The restriction would keep ministers and civil rights volunteers from helping out at the polls, Advancement Project spokeswoman Jennifer Farmer said. The left-leaning Florida New Majority scrambled to find Creole interpreters to fill a shortage in Miami-Dade County in November.

“There is no rationale, moral or legitimate argument for this amendment. This amendment hurts some our most vulnerable citizens – the elderly, people with disabilities, people who don’t speak English, and voters who are unable to read or fully understand ballot language,” Farmer said in an e-mail.

Elections supervisors stunned by last-minute ‘attack’

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The appointed secretary of state would have the authority to decide if elections supervisors are “non-compliant” and force them to take additional training under a last-minute provision included in a sweeping elections bill by the Senate this morning.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sponsored the late-filed amendment to give the secretary of state “a little more clout” over the local officials.

“It’s more symbolic than anything else, but it’s an important message to send I believe,” said Diaz de la Portilla, who has been an outspoken critic of Miami-Dade County’s elections and is the sponsor of the controversial 2011 HB 1355 that shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. Many critics believe the shorter number of days contributed to the long lines encountered by voters in counties with large populations, including Palm Beach.

Looking on from the public gallery, the 22-18 vote in favor of Diaz de la Portilla’s amendment stunned several supervisors, including the Florida State Association of State Elections Supervisors President Vicki Davis of Martin County.

Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, a former state representative, called the last-minute amendment a “typical inside Tallahassee backroom deal.”

And Pasco County elections supervisor Brian Corley, who minutes before had been tweeting praise of the bill, called the idea that a “politically appointed Tallahassee bureaucrat” could put local elections officials on “super secret probation” insulting.

The House approved its version of the elections changes (HB 7013) on the first day of the legislative session. The Senate could vote in its version as early as next week, and could add more changes.

League of Women Voters hears about guns, Louboutins and elections

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida heard from both sides on the gun debate and elections and ethics reform during their annual gathering in the Capitol this morning.

National Rifle Association Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer addressed the crowd after Quincy Police Chief Walter McNeil, a former president of the International Police Chiefs Association who’s helped the White House craft a gun control policy.

It’s the first time Hammer’s been asked to appear before the League in her nearly four decades of lobbying.

She told the group, which backs stricter gun control measures, that semi-automatic weapons function the same as traditional guns but look fancier.

“It’s technology that’s been around for over 100 years and the only diffrerence is cosmetics. The cosmetics are new,” Hammer said. She said that a gun with the plastic stock replaced by a wooden stock would fire the same way.

“That’s no different than a lady in an elegant dress and nylon stockings and Christian Louboutin high-heeled shoes and expensive jewelry changing clothes into blue jeans, a sweatshirt, Nikes and a Timex watch. The only difference is the way she looks,” she said.

Hammer also said that Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law does not need to be changed. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force to look into the law in response to an outcry over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

“If criminals don’t want to get shot, they should leave people alone,” Hammer said.

Rep. Mark Pafford, celebrating his 47th birthday on Thursday, spoke about elections and health care.
(more…)

Tearful Senate honors late Larcenia Bullard

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

An emotional Florida Senate stood for a moment of silence to honor the late Larcenia Bullard, a long-time legislator who died Saturday at age 65.

Bullard’s son, Dwight, took her place in the Senate last year after Bullard, a Miami Democrat who served in the Legislature for nearly two decades, left office due to term limits.

A tearful Bullard encouraged his colleagues to emulate his mother, known for her sense of humor, compassion and inquisitiveness.

“She walked the halls smiling, hugging, speaking to everyone. Her place in history is set. My challenge to you is to take a piece of her spirit with you and learn to love the people,” Bullard said.

The Senate will hold a memorial service in Tallahassee on Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the chamber, followed by a reception in the Senate Democratic Office, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith said on the floor.

“I guarantee you there will be key lime pie,” said Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Bullard was responsible for the pie becoming the state’s state pie, and annually distributed slices of the South Florida treat to the members.

Bipartisan lovefest comes to an end over Senate elections reform

Monday, March 18th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala had hoped for a unanimous thumbs-up on a measure designed to fix Florida’s elections woes highlighted by long lines in November.

Instead, St. Petersburg Republican stormed out of the committee meeting room after a strict party-line vote, with all Democrats – including Vice Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood – voting “no.”

Democrats said their objections to the bill shouldn’t come as a surprise. They filed numerous amendments late last week and held a press conference two weeks ago highlighting their wish-list for the bill (SB 600).

The House passed its version of the bill (HB 7013) on the first day of the legislative session, with just one Republican voting against the measure.

Like the House plan, the Senate bill allows elections supervisors to choose from eight to 14 days of early voting, offer early voting from eight to 12 hours each day and expands the types of early voting sites.

In 2011, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed an elections package (HB 1355) that shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to 8 and imposed new requirements along with stiff penalties for third-party registration groups. A federal court overturned the third-party voter registration portion of the law.

But Democrats said the early voting changes don’t go far enough to undo the damage created by HB 1355. Republican consultants and former GOP officials said that bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, was designed to suppress Democratic turnout in reaction to the 2008 election when minorities helped President Obama’s victory in Florida.

This year’s measure does not require that supervisors offer early voting on the Sunday before the election, a day national organizers have made “Souls to the Polls” to encourage minority voters to cast their ballots after church.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, also wanted to do away with a new provision in the law requiring voters who move from one county to another to cast provisional ballots if they don’t update their address before Election Day.

Other Democratic-backed amendments would have required at least one early voting site for every 47,000 residents, required supervisors to open an early voting site nearby one that has a wait time of more than an hour and required all counties to have the full 14 days of early voting.

All of the Democrats’ amendments either failed or were withdrawn, as Latvala grew increasingly more impatient.

Latvala said he would consider some of their changes at another time “in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation on this committee if we can get to that point on this bill.”

But they did not.

The provisional ballot changes were designed to “keep college students from voting,” Clemens, who served in the Florida House in 2011, said. College students helped boost Obama to victory in 2008.

“The genesis of this language was discriminatory. It remains discriminatory,” Clemens said.

That drew a rebuke from Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who implied that the Democrats’ amendments were contrary to the Senate’s protocol.

“Your comments takes away from deliberative body that we are. We tend to do things a bit different,” Gardiner said.

Later, Latvala said the Democrats blind-sided him with their amendments, filed Friday, and should have reached out to him last week.

“There were a couple of those that were in there today that i’d seen them and we could have worked on them, we could have probably put them in,” he said.

He called the Democratic opposition to the bill a political ploy.

“It’s hard for me to understand how every Democrat in the House could vote for the bill. We improved a couple of areas in the Senate bill in the issues they’re concerned about and the Democrats voted against it. It’s just politics pure and simple,” Latvala said.

But Clemens said it was “naive” to expect the Democrats to support the measure without the changes they held a press conference demanding just two weeks ago.

HB 1355 “took us from Point A to Point Z and now they want to go back to Point M and say that it’s enough,” Clemens said. “It’s just simply not. We’ve been very clear about the things we want to see in the bill. So it should be no surprise to anybody. For members of that committee to somehow believe that we were going to roll over when they didn’t meet any of the requests, it seems somewhat naïve to me.”

Sting that led to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resignation fuels push for Internet cafe ban

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal gambling probe that led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll last night may fuel support for a ban on the “casinos on the corner” after lawmakers have for years refused to act.

Carroll stepped down amid fallout from the investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service and other Florida law enforcement agencies into Allied Veterans of the World, a non-profit organization that operates dozens of internet cafes in Florida.

Allegations against Allied Veterans include money laundering, siphoning from a nonprofit for personal gain and misrepresenting the amount donated to charities. The IRS obtained search warrants to pursue the case from a federal judge in Oklahoma City.

Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who called Carroll a long-time friend, said he intends to use the corruption probe to push for a ban on the Internet cafes. Thrasher, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, has sponsored a measure that would place a moratorium on the cafes, but said this morning he wants the Legislature to move faster and go farther.

“Now I believe that the evidence has come out that indicates these things are exactly what we thought they were. They’ve been corrupted. There’s a problem with them. Counties and cities are having problems. Law enforcement people are having problems,” Thrasher told reporters.

Eight lobbyists who represent International Internet Technologies before the legisalture and governor’s office also withdrew their registration on Wednesday. IIT is a software company that is part of the investigation of Allied Veterans of the World. Lobbyist Sarah Bascom told The Palm Beach Post they had been “misled” by IIT.

Palm Beach County banned new Internet cafes from opening in unincorporated areas last year, and the West Palm Beach city commission moved forward with a moratorium this week. More than 1,000 of the cafes have popped up throughout the state. Cafe customers purchase Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play free “sweepstakes” games, in which computer credit or time is won. Those credits can be redeemed for cash.

Thrasher said Volusia County Ben Johnson, who will participate in a multi-law enforcement agency news conference regarding the sting later today, told him that officials had confiscated $50 million from Allied Veterans of the World and affiliated Internet cafes.

“These things are skimming things off. They’re not doing what they’re suggested to do. It’s a system where they have to go and justify their existence and I don’t think they can do that,” Thrasher said.

Thrasher refused to speculate about a possible replacement for Carroll but said her resignation may help Scott in his reelection bid.

“The governor now has to pick, frankly, somebody that he believes can help him in the campaign. So I think it will be a benefit to him, frankly, down the road,” he said.

Senate field trip: Behind-the-scenes look at Leon County elections

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Leon County elections office Tuesday morning as the panel mulls voting changes.

The trip to Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho’s office gave the bipartisan panel a glimpse of the entire voting process from early voting to absentee ballot canvassing. Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he wanted the members to make the site visit to see what elections operations are all about. Sancho, a veteran elections supervisor and an independent, has been a harsh critic of the 2011 election law (HB 1355) that shortened early voting and required more voters to cast provisional ballots if they move.

“I thought it would be helpful for some of the members of the committee of actually seeing what goes on to process the ballots both outgoing and incoming. So it was very interesting. A very good experience,” Latvala said.

But the tour didn’t appear to change Latvala’s proposed election law changes. He still favors making it easier for absentee ballots to be counted by loosening the requirement that absentee ballot signatures must match a voter’s registration application. Many voters don’t update their applications but their signatures change, and once an absentee ballot is rejected, voters don’t have an opportunity to change it.

Supervisors should be able to verify signatures using precinct registers, Latvala said.

“The example they showed us today was a lady that registered to vote in 1974 and so that’s almost 40 years ago. her signature was not the same in 1974 as it is now. Well I bet mine’s not either. So it’s just a learning experience. We want to try to do the best job we can and we just need to have all the facts at our disposal.”

The panel is unlikely to undo the part of the 2011 election law that required voters moving within a county to cast provisional ballots if they are not at their correct precinct and banned voters who move from one county to another from casting ballots at all.

Sancho said that while the number of provisional ballots grew in Leon County after the 2011 election law change, the percentage of rejected provisional ballots – between 30 and 40 percent – remained about the same.

Florida elections package passes first committee

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Elections supervisors would be able to hold early voting from eight to 14 days for up to 12 hours per day and have a broader array of early voting sites under a proposal unanimously approved by the House Ethics and Elections Committee this morning.

The plan also would impose a 75-word limit on the constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the legislature but only for the first attempt. The full text of amendments struck down by the court and rewritten by the attorney general would be allowed.

The changes are the legislature’s attempt to do away with the long early voting and Election Day lines that once again cast an unwelcome national spotlight on Florida’s fall elections. The proposal mirrors the supervisors of elections’ legislative wish-list, also backed by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and a yet-to-be-released proposal from the state Senate.

The GOP-controlled legislature shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to eight in a sweeping 2011 bill (HB 1355), signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, the sponsor of HB 1355, said Wednesday morning the new plan should help fix some of the problems voters encountered in the 2012 elections but stopped short of saying his bill that shortened early voting was a mistake and that supervisors needed the full two weeks.

“They need something. And that’s what they asked for and said would help them. So we’re trying to be responsive. I think allowing them more discretion and more time is certainly part of the answer,” Baxley, R-Ocala, said after the vote.

Republicans have repeatedly pointed out that the long lines were isolated in just a handful of counties, including Palm Beach where some voters waited more than eight hours to cast their ballots.

Sonya Gibson, a West Palm Beach educator and activist with the left-leaning Florida New Majority, shared her voting experience with the committee Wednesday morning.

She said she waited about nine hours to vote at the Westgate Community Center before giving up and returning on Election Day with her three daughters, who also voted. She said they waited at the same location for nearly 10 hours on Election Day before casting their ballots.

Former GOP officials and consultants, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, said the 2011 law was designed to curb Democratic turnout after Obama’s Florida victory in 2008.

Gibson called the House measure a “face-saving” measure for Republican lawmakers but a good start.

“At this point, it is time to move forward,” she said. “It’s not anymore about who did what, who didn’t say what or who did say what. It’s about moving forward so you can get the best results for our fellow Floridians, so that we can be an example.”

House Democrats, who withdrew nine amendments to the bill, vowed to push to broaden the bill, including doing away with a requirement in 1355 that forced more voters to cast provisional ballots if they moved outside of the county. Provisional ballots have a greater chance of not being counted and take longer to process at the polls. But they, too, agreed the bill was a good starting point.

“The reality is that this bill ggoes a long way towards repairing the damage that 1355 caused. Democrats spoke extensively against 1355 because we anticipated the problems that actually occurred. This bill starts to remedy that situation,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who does not serve on the committee but is one of House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston’s top lieutenants.

Nelson backing federal elections proposal capping voting waits at one hour

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Reacting to Floridians who stood in line for up to eight hours before casting their ballots last year, Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is pushing a measure that would set a national goal of a maximum of a one-hour wait at any polling place during federal elections.

Nelson is co-sponsoring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s “LINE, or Lines Interfere with National Elections act, filed by the California Democrat last year in reaction to long lines in Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

In Palm Beach County, some voters waited more than seven hours at the Lantana Road Branch Library on the last day of early voting.

“In the interest of fairness and to avoid undermining the credibility of our elections, we should be making voting more convenient, not more difficult,” Nelson said in a press release today. “People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise a basic right, not in a Democracy like ours.”

President Obama is expected to highlight the need to address voting problems in his State of the Union address tonight, where a 102-year-old Florida woman who waited more than three hours to vote will be a guest of the First Lady.

In his inaugural address, the president said: “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

The Boxer bill would require the U.S. attorney general to issue new national standards by Jan. 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers and other election resources necessary to hold federal elections. And it would require that minimum standards take into account the number of eligible voters, recent voter turnout, the number of new voter registrations, Census data for each polling place and the socio-economic makeup of the voting population.

In 2011, the GOP-dominated legislature shortened the early voting period from 14 to eight days despite long lines in 2008 that prompted then-Gov. Charlie Crist to extend the number of early voting hours. Former GOP officials, including Crist (who is now a Democrat) said the law was intentionally designed to inhibit Democratic turnout in 2012.

102-year-old Florida woman who waited hours to vote to join Michelle Obama for State of the Union

Monday, February 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Desiline Victor (Photo courtesy of Advancement Project)

A 102-year-old Florida woman who waited more than three hours to vote before casting her ballot in North Miami will join First Lady Michelle Obama at President Obama’s state of the union address tomorrow night, highlighting his pledge to do something about the problems last fall that again cast an unwelcome spotlight on Florida elections.

Desiline Victor, a Haitian-born U.S. citizen and former Belle Glade farm worker, waited three hours to vote on Oct. 28 at a public library.

According to Advancement Project, the civil rights group that has worked with Victor and is bringing her to Washington, Victor waited in line for three hours at a Miami-Dade County public library on Oct. 28. After others standing in line with the elderly woman complained to Miami-Dade County election staff, she was told to come back later in the day when there wouldn’t be as long to wait and more Creole language assistance would be available. She cast her ballot later on her return trip to the early voting site.

“We know that thousands of American citizens were kept from casting their ballots because of long lines and other unacceptable barriers. In a democracy, we have a responsibility to keep voting free, fair and accessible with equal access to the ballot for all. These problems could be fixed with federal voting standards that include early voting, modernized registration and other measures that protect our right to vote. Currently, we have 13,000 different jurisdictions who run elections 13000 different ways,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project.

Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 shortened the state’s early voting period from 14 to eight days despite long lines in 2008 that prompted then-Gov. Charlie Crist to extend early voting hours. Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill (HB 1355) into law, now supports a flexible eight-to-14 day early voting period and leaving it up to the local supervisors to choose the number of days.

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