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DHSMV to start vetting non-citizen voter list

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State highway officials will begin vetting a controversial list of 180,000 potential non-citizens who are registered to vote within the next few weeks, The Palm Beach Post has learned.

The news comes as a surprise to elections supervisors who, at their summer meeting this week, pleaded with state Division of Elections leaders to more thoroughly scrub the records before sending them on to the local officials for further action.

The Department of State last month gave elections supervisors a list of more than 2,600 voters – many of them in Miami-Dade County – potentially ineligible to vote because they may not be legal citizens. The list was generated by matching voter registration files with driver’s license data.

But the information in the list included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who are naturalized citizens. Secretary of State Ken Detzner and his staff blamed the problematic list on the Department of Homeland Security. The federal officials have refused to give Detzner’s office access to a federal database with more up-to-date immigration and citizenship information.

But the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has access to the SAVE – “Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements” – database, prompting county supervisors on Tuesday and Wednesday to ask the state elections staff to get DHSMV to run the records through SAVE. Division of Elections chief Gisela Salas and DOS lawyer Maria Matthews told the supervisors their agency is working with DHSMV to resolve the issue but were uncertain about whether it could be done.

On Thursday, DHSMV Director of Motorist Services Boyd Walden told The Palm Beach Post that his agency will begin running the list of 180,000 potential non-citizens through the SAVE database within the next few weeks.

“We are gearing up to get it done. That’s the plan,” Walden said.

DOS spokesman Chris Cate confirmed that the vetting would begin soon, and the state department would pick up the tab. DOS sent a memo to supervisors late Thursday telling them of the new plan, Cate said. Read the memo after the jump.

The SAVE database includes records on people who have gone through the immigration process, including those who have applied for green cards or become citizens.

“It’s disappointing DHS will not give us direct access to their database but we are very grateful for our state partners at highway safety who understand the importance of having accurate voter rolls,” Cate said. “We have an obligation to improve the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls. So we have offered to pay the cost it takes for Highway Safety to update their records and ultimately the status of potential non-citizens on Florida’s voter rolls.”

State elections officials do not have an estimate of many non-citizens will be confirmed on the voter rolls, Cate said.

“We just know it’s important for us to find out what that number is,” he said.

Supervisors were relieved at the news.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher pressed officials from both agencies on Tuesday and Wednesday to have DHSMV scrub the list.

“Obviously our goal is to have the most accurate data possible so we don’t disturb voters who shouldn’t be on that list,” Bucher, who has not yet notified about 115 voters in Palm Beach County that they have been flagged as potentially ineligible voters. “All of us would have appreciated some more specific information from the division of Elections. I’m hopeful that we receive that soon.”

Read Salas’ memo to supervisors below.

Scott hires Ken Detzner as new secretary of state

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has tapped long-time beer lobbyist and Tallahassee insider Ken Detzner to replace retiring Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

It’s the second time Scott’s hired a former secretary of state to head the department that oversees elections and cultural affairs.

Detzner briefly served as interim secretary of state under former Gov. Jeb Bush as well as chief of staff for former Secretary of State Jim Smith. He also spent six years working for Smith when Smith was the attorney general. Detzner recently helped the attorney general’s office handle claims related to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Detzner spent 13 years lobbying for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and for the past decade has worked as a government consultant and lobbyist.

Detzner said he will work with Browning, who will stay on the job to oversee the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary, until taking over as permanent secretary on Feb. 17.

“It’s very important that we have a smooth transition. Ken will do that. He has experience. Not only do we have to make sure we have a good 2012 election cycle but I know all of us want to make sure we have a good Viva 500,” Scott told reporters this morning after introducing Detzner, a well-known figure in the Capitol. Viva 500 is a year-long celebration of Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida.

Detzner said he was approached by Scott’s staff about the job while he was in the governor’s office representing one of his clients and he asked for 24 hours to consider it.

“It’s a high honor. I made two pledges. One for transparency and openness and fairness to all the parties that are involved with the secretary of state’s office. Very important to be fair and open and honest to every party that’s involved there,” he said.

Detzner called the post “one of the most fun jobs in state government” and said he withdrew as a lobbyist this morning.

“Oh gosh, I’m excited. This is one of the most fun jobs of state government. In addition to the really heavy responsibility, being involved with the elections process, cultural affairs, historic preservation, Viva 500 next year…
All a lot of fun things to do in government but the heavy burden, the responsibility of the elections is something that I’d be very much focused on,” he said.

Some elections supervisors had hoped to have one of their colleagues take over for Browning, who spent more than three decades as Pasco County elections supervisor but Scott said he is confident that Detzner is up to the job.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning resigns for the second time

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Secretary of State Kurt Browning is stepping down – for the second time – but will stay on the job long enough to oversee the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary election.

Browning, who met briefly with Gov. Rick Scott today before announcing his resignation, has served twice as the state’s chief elections official. He worked for four years for Gov. Charlie Crist but took an early retirement in 2010 because of a new rule dealing with state workers collecting pensions while on the job.

Scott rehired Browning shortly after the governor took office in January. After six months off the state payroll, Browning was again eligible to work and collect retirement pay at the same time. Browning, who earns $139,999.92 a year, will stay until Feb. 17, after which he is considering a run for Pasco County school superintendent.

Browning told reporters Wednesday he did “a lot of soul-searching” over the holidays before deciding to step down, that he was not being forced out and that he hopes his replacement will take over before he leaves.

“I’ve always said the department of state ran well before I got here. It will run well after I’m gone,” Browning said.

Browning’s been involved in a high-profile federal lawsuit over the state’s new elections laws, and has been an outspoken critic of President Obama’s administration.


UPDATE: Dems outraged over Scott secret withdrawal of redistricting amendments

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott responded to his withdrawal of redistricting amendments for federal approval.

“Consistent with Governor Scott’s effort to assess the rules, regulations and contracts of the previous administration, he has withdrawn the letter requesting a DOJ review of Amendments 5 and 6. Census data has not been transmitted to the state yet and the Legislature will not undertake redistricting for months, so this withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and congressional districts,” Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said in an e-mail.

In his first few days on the job, Gov.Rick Scott quietly withdrew the state’s request for a federal go-ahead to move forward with two redistricting amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.

Scott sent the request to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has to sign off on any changes to Florida elections laws affecting voters’ rights, on Jan. 7, just two days after he announced the reappointment of Department of State Secretary Kurt Browning. After Browning left Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration last year, he headed up a political committee that fought Amendments 5 and 6, aka the “Fair Districts” amendments. Crist’s temporary secretary of the state department submitted the application for “preclearance” to DOJ officials on Dec. 10

Scott’s move, offered with no explanation to the feds and no public announcement, left Democrats and supporters of the amendments hopping mad, and the state’s top Democrat is demanding Scott resubmit the preclearance application.


Scott puts developer in charge of growth management

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed St. Joe Co. executive Billy Buzzett as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees growth management.

Buzzett is a lawyer, developer and engineer who helped smooth the way for St. Joe’s massive expansion in the Panhandle.

Buzzett served on Scott’s transition team, which recommended doing away with the agency, something Scott has said he would consider.

Buzzett’s role would be to “better align Department of Community Affairs functions with other functions across state government,” Scott said in a press release.

Scott also reinstated former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who quit after Gov. Charlie Crist jumped the GOP and became an independent.

And Scott said former Washington DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who served on his transition team, would remain as his education advisor. He and Rhee will visit a charter school in Opalocka Thursday morning.

Rain keeps voter turnout low, Secretary of State says no probs with elections so far

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Rain kept voter turnout low despite predictions of record-breaking participation, Secretary of State Dawn Roberts said after the polls closed this evening.

Roberts said she’s had no reports of systemic problems with voting equipment, long lines or other complaints that have plagued Florida since the protracted 2000 presidential election.

“It’s been a great day. It’s been a wet day. So a little slow,” Roberts told reporters during a brief press conference after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

A handful of voters in Palm Beach and Broward counties were given “No Party Affiliation” ballots and cast their votes before complaining to elections workers that they were unable to vote in the hotly contested gubernatorial primary between Attorney General Bill McCollum and Rick Scott or the Democratic U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and Palm Beach millionaire Jeff Greene.

“That unfortunately happens every primary,” Roberts said. “It’s a training issue…Also, voters need to pay attention.”

She said voters should familiarize their sample ballots before going to their polling place and should alert workers before voting if they think they have the wrong ballot.

Nearly 1 million voters voted early or by absentee ballot, Roberts said.

Elections results are available online and should be finalized in by 11 p.m. or earlier if no problems arise.

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