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PBC Commission candidate takes issue with county meeting notice

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Palm Beach County Commission candidate Andy Schaller is questioning why county administrators did not notify him about a community forum held Tuesday night to discuss issues facing the central-western part of the county.

Schaller has taken aim at county officials for notifying his opponents about a county-run meeting held late last year to discuss a road project in his neighborhood, Palm Beach Ranchettes.

In an email to county commissioners and administrators Wednesday, Schaller questioned why candidates weren’t also notified of Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by nearly 200 residents. The proposed 6,500-home Minto West development dominated the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I did not receive any email correspondence, telephone calls or postal mail to inform me of last night’s Minto Property meeting,” Schaller wrote in the email. “Why was I not given the same notification that other candidates received about the Ranchettes a much smaller project in the district and have far less impact to the entire district?”

Last month, Schaller accused county administrators of trying to block his chances of winning the District 6 race by inappropriately giving his opponents information about a road project that could affect voters in his neighborhood.

County Administrator Bob Weisman has defended the notification, saying possible extension of Lyon Road through the Ranchettes community is a big issue for the district.

Weisman authorized county managers to alert all of the four candidates who have announced they are running for term-limited Commissioner Jess Santamaria’s District 6 seat about a community meeting held last month to discuss the road project.

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.

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.
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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.”

Senate Democrats unleash elections wish-list

Monday, March 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Senate Democrats released a 7-point plan to fix the state’s elections, going much farther than what GOP leaders in both chambers appear to be prepared to accept.

The Democrats’ plan would not only repeal HB 1355, the 2011 law that shrank early voting from 14 to eight days, which critics say was a major factor in long lines and waits up to eight hours encountered by some voters last fall.

The Democrats’ plan would require 14 days of early voting in statewide or presidential elections, including the last Sunday before Election Day, known as “Souls to the Polls”; one early voting site for each 47,000 registered voters; more flexibility in early voting sites; and allowing voters who move to cast regular ballots instead of provisional ballots at the polls. They also want voters to be able to cast their absentee ballots in person at elections offices as soon as they receive the ballots in the mail.

The Florida House is moving a bill that would give elections supervisors flexibility to choose between eight and 14 days of early voting and expand the types of facilities they could use for early voting.

Elections supervisors want to be able to choose the number of days because some, especially those in smaller counties, say that voters wait until closer to the election to cast their ballots and it is too expensive to keep the early voting sites operating for the full two weeks.

“I can’t put a price on democracy. Having the polls open for 14 days, whatever the cost, is important for democracy,” Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said at a press conference. “If it’s 14 days in Broward, it should be 14 days in Dixie, 14 days in Flagler, 14 days in Hillsborough.”

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meets this afternoon to discuss its proposal but is not expected to vote on the measure yet.

Senate ethics package ready for floor vote

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A sweeping ethics overhaul is headed to the Florida Senate for a floor vote, possibly on the first day of the legislative session that begins on March 5.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved the plan, a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Tuesday afternoon.

The omnibus measure (SB 2) would impose new restrictions on legislators who become lobbyists; on state and local officials who take jobs with universities or other public agencies; and on candidates who dip into political committees for what require Gaetz calls a “filet mignon lifestyle.”

Lawmakers would also be required to disclose when voting on bills that would result in a special benefit for them, their business partners or their immediate family members.

Constitutional officers including sheriffs and elections supervisors would have to undergo four hours of ethics training. The proposed ethics code would also require candidates or officeholders to set up “blind trusts.”

And the measure gives more teeth to the state’s Commission on Ethics by allowing the authority to initiate investigations and impose liens or garnish wages of wrongdoers who don’t pay fines.

The commission would also be required to update its financial disclosure system by putting all the forms online in a searchable database.

The employment restriction is designed to keep public agencies from creating jobs for powerful politicians. The proposal would allow elected officials or qualified candidates to get public employment if the job is publicly advertised, the position was already created and if they are subject to the same requirements as other candidates.

“They can basically apply for any job that’s out there advertised in government as long as they’re qualified for the job, as long as it’s an open application period. We just want to discourage those kinds of things that happened with Ray Sansom” or in a Panhandle county where a commissioner got a special job with the city, Senate bill sponsor Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said.

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom was hired by Northwest Florida State College for a $110,000-a-year job on the day he became speaker. The Destin Republican was forced to resign as speaker in 2009 after he was charged with conspiracy and grand theft for spending that benefited the college that onetime appropriations chairman Sansom tucked into the state budget. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Sansom.

Latvala called the ethics overhaul “a significant piece of legislation” aimed at improving the public’s confidence in elected officials.

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.

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.

State Department issues elections recommendations

Monday, February 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A possibly longer early voting period, more kinds of early voting sites and limiting the length of constitutional questions placed on the ballot by the Legislature are among Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s recommendations to lawmakers released today.

Detzner’s suggestions, based on conversations with supervisors of elections in what he called “under-performing” counties including Palm Beach, dovetail with what the supervisors are requesting.

The supervisors for years have asked lawmakers to expand the types of early voting sites now restricted to elections offices, county libraries and city halls. Detzner’s recommendations would add other government-operated facilities including civic centers, county commission buildings, courthouses, fairgrounds and stadiums.

Detzner recommends limiting the number of words for legislators’ proposed constitutional amendments. Lawmakers in 2000 exempted themselves from the 15-word title and 75-word ballot summary imposed on citizens’ initiatives. Detzner also recommends repealing the statute that allows lawmakers to place the full text of the constitutional amendment, including stricken or underlined text, on the ballot.

Detzner also made several secondary recommendations:
_ Lengthen the deadline for mailing absentee ballots to voters, now 10 days before the election, and allow canvassing boards to start processing absentee ballots earlier than 15 days before the election now in state law.
_ Restrict “in-person” absentee voting at the counter. Elections supervisors complained that they were inundated by in-person absentee voters, including on Election Day, and blamed President Obama’s campaign for using the in-person absentee voting as a way around early voting restrictions.
“‘In-person absentee’ voting, as currently implemented, has created a de facto early voting extension that can interfere with Election Day preparations and delay election results until after Election Day,” Detzner wrote in his report.
_ Allow chief judges to appoint alternates to canvassing commissions, now comprised of a county judge, the chairman of the county board of commissioners and the elections supervisor.
_ Impose fines for underperforming elections vendors. St. Lucie County’s elections results were delayed because memory cards failed, and Palm Beach County elections staff were forced to hand-copy nearly 20,000 flawed ballots because of the printer’s errors.
_ Require elections supervisors to upload results earlier. St. Lucie County could not meet the deadline for certification of elections results because, in part, staff uploaded results later due to the memory card failures.

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Senate committee to workshop Clemens’s elections bills on Tuesday

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will workshop two voting-related bills sponsored by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Tuesday.

One of Clemens’s proposals would automatically register voters when they get a driver’s license or state ID card (they could opt out if they choose). The second would restrict legislators to putting three constitutional amendments on the ballot at any one time.

They’ll be the first official pieces of legislation heard by the committee, tasked by Senate President Don Gaetz to figure out what went wrong with the 2012 election and propose legislative fixes.

Elections supervisors told the committee earlier this month that the number one problem – even in areas that didn’t have six hour waits like Palm Beach County – was the length of the ballot.

The GOP-controlled legislature placed 11 lengthy, and according to the supervisors confusing, constitutional questions on the 2012 ballot. Three of them passed, and the rest did not even get a majority approval from voters. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.

Limiting the number of constitutional questions lawmakers can place on the ballot requires a change to the constitution, which means Clemens’s proposal would have to go before voters.

“The irony of this is yes, I filed a constitutional amendment to limit constitutitonal amendments,” Clemens said. “That’s the only way to accomplish it. I think it’s a legitimate constitutional issue as opposed to many of the items placed on the ballot in November which were purely political.”

Scott backs flexible early voting period, ‘Souls to the Polls’

Thursday, January 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

After signing into law a bill shrinking the number of early voting days from 14 to eight and scrapping early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, Gov. Rick Scott has reversed himself and is now backing a proposal floated by the state’s elections supervisors.

Scott’s plan, released in a statement today, would:
- Give supervisors the flexibility to hold between eight and 14 days of early voting, including the Sunday before Election Day, from six to 12 hours per day.
- Expand the types of early voting locations, now restricted to public libraries, city halls and elections offices open more than a year. Lawmakers have repeatedly ignored supervisors’ request for a wider array of early voting sites.
- Limit the length of the ballot. Lawmakers put the full text of 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot this year. Unlike citizens’ initiatives, lawmakers are not restricted to the 15-word title and 75-word summary for their questions. Scott’s press release did not include any details about what limits he wants lawmakers to impose on themselves, but said he wants to “reduce the length of the ballot, including the description of proposed constitutional amendments.” Supervisors said the long ballot was the number one reason for lengthy delays in some areas, including Palm Beach County where some voters waited more than seven hours to vote.

Former GOP officials, including onetime Republican and now Democrat Gov. Charlie Crist, contend that the shortened early voting period and the elimination of the Sunday before Election Day were aimed at curbing Democratic turnout. In 2008, many black churches organized “Souls to the Polls” drives in which voters cast their ballots after attending services.

Scott released his statement after meeting with Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who formed the recommendations after visiting a variety of county supervisors he deemed “under-performing,” including Palm Beach’s Susan Bucher and St. Lucie County elections supervisor Gertrude Walker.

“I believe all these reforms are strongly supported by the input and experiences of local election supervisors and others that the department met with for ideas on improving our current system – a system clearly in need of improvement,” Scott said in the statement.

Scott’s proposal drew kudos from the League of Women Voters of Florida but ridicule from Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.

“Governor Rick Scott continues to lead from behind, breaking our elections system in 2011 and making our state a national embarrassment in 2012. Heading into an election year, Scott is attempting to distance himself from his actions which have hurt Florida voters and underscored that he simply can’t be trusted. Floridians will see through this election year lip service,” Smith said in a statement.

Clemens files automatic voter registration bill

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Freshman Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed a bill that would make the state responsible for registering eligible voters instead of leaving the onus on voters themselves.

Clemens’s proposal (SB 234) is one of a slew of bills filed by Democrats in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election where some voters, including some in Clemens’s home county of Palm Beach, waited in line up to eight hours to cast their ballots during early voting.

His proposal would require the state to automatically register eligible U.S. citizens when they reach age 18 using Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles driver’s license data.

“The original purpose of the voter registration system was to disenfranchise women and African-Americans,” Clemens said in a press release. “It’s time we ditched the archaic scheme and realize that every adult American citizen should be automatically registered. There simply is no good reason to make people jump through hoops.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, the country’s leading civil rights prosecutor, also wants the country to join the majority of other democratic nations regarding voting by making the government – instead of the voter – responsible for signing up voters.

Clemens’s proposal gives adults the ability to opt out of getting registered, a twist on the current “Motor Voter” law that requires DHSMV workers to ask those applying for a driver’s license or state ID if they want to register to vote.
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U.S. Sen. Boxer files ‘LINE’ Act to cap voting waits at one hour

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A four hour wait to vote may be OK for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but it’s unacceptable to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who introduced legislation targeting long lines in Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

Boxer’s proposed “LINE,” or Lines Interfere with National Elections, Act would set national standards of a maximum waiting time of one hour at any polling place in federal elections. And the bill would require states, including Florida, where voters waited in long lines to implement plans to fix the problems before the next federal election.

Boxer filed her bill the day after Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner told a state House committee that Scott set a four-hour wait as “underperforming” for county elections offices.

Boxer’s proposal 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, according to a press release issued by her office.

The legislation is intended “to deal directly with the problem of dysfunction at polling places around the country,” including Florida, Virginia and Ohio, the press release states.

Boxer also is pressuring U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “take immediate steps to address the long lines experienced around the country.” Voters in some areas in Florida waited up to eight hours to cast their ballots during early voting and on Election Day.

“I will be working tirelessly to enact the LINE Act into law, but in the meantime I urge you to ensure that no citizen, regardless of ethnicity or income level, is effectively denied the right to vote by unreasonable and unnecessary lines,” Boxer wrote in a letter to Holder yesterday.

Elections, McDonalds and immediate gratification

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Four weeks after the presidential election, a Senate committee began delving into what went wrong in Florida.

A host of potential culprits include the media, select county elections supervisors, stingy county commissions and possibly the legislature itself, according to testimony from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Ron Labasky – the general counsel of the state supervisors of elections association – and Pasco County Elections Supervisor Brian Corley.

Detzner said he will meet next week with supervisors he’s targeted as “underperforming” because of lengthy waits during early voting and on Election Day and other problems he did not identify. Those counties are: Lee, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie, he said. The supervisors from those counties will also be called to appear before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said today.

Latvala said the committee may hold public hearings in South Florida sometime in January.

One senator proposed giving Detzner more authority to suspend county supervisors, pointing to problems experienced in Palm Beach County without identifying PBC by name.

“We heard a lot of complaints regarding a ballot…they were making copies of ballots because they were originally wrong,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “I’m all for independence and local control…But…at what point is there an intervention? If it becomes so apparent that a county has not made the appropriate decisions or the ballots were sent out wrong…There’s really no recourse.”

But Latvala, a veteran legislator, said later that the governor already has the authority to remove a supervisor for wrongdoing, recalling that Gov. Jeb Bush once suspended a Broward County elections supervisor.

Latvala said he didn’t think the committee would likely give Detzner more power, but said that some counties repeatedly have problems.

“if the shoe fits, Palm Beach County should wear it,” he said.

Committee members frequently used McDonald’s or other restaurants as an example of how election should be run.

But Sen. Tom Lee, a former Senate president elected in November, posed a critical question.

“What is an acceptable length of time for somebody to wait to vote?”

Detzner said he would know what an acceptable time is if he ran a restaurant and his customers left.

“If people have to wait too long to vote, they may go home and not vote,” he said.

Detzner complimented the voters who waited in line and were “civil” and had political conversations while biding their time.

“It was a wonderful thing to see people having that kind of dialogue,” he said. “But to wait in line four or five or six hours is unacceptable.”

Florida Congressional Democrats seek federal probe of voting law

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida’s Democratic U.S. House members, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold a hearing regarding Florida’s voting law that shrunk the number of early voting days, required more voters to cast provisional ballots and was intended to curb voter registration by outside groups.

The Democratic delegation asked for the hearing based on a report in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday that detailed how Republican Party of Florida consultants and staff sought to alter Florida’s early voting laws in the aftermath of the 2008 election to curb Democratic turnout.

“In light of these allegations, we are extremely concerned over the integrity of this law and the justification for its implementation,” U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson and Wasserman Schultz wrote to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairman Martin Castro in a letter sent today. “As you know, trust in our democracy is what holds our country together. Voters must be able to trust that their elected officials are acting in their best interest.”

The commission held hearings in Florida in the aftermath of the protracted 2000 election and made numerous recommendations based on its findings, many of which were included in the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002.

State certifies election with unofficial results from West-Murphy race

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Two weeks after the Nov. 6 election, Florida’s 2012 results are now official.

Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi this morning certified with special attention to St. Lucie County’s prolonged recount the nationally-watched U.S. House District 18 contest between tea party icon U.S. Rep. Allen West and newly-elected U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

After lawsuits and recounts, West conceded this morning.

Scott and the two Cabinet members, acting as the state Election Canvassing Commission, were about to certify the results of the presidential, statewide and multi-county races as well as a few special elections, Secretary of State Ken Detzner told them.

“However, I bring to your attention that the St. Lucie County official returns were not received by the statutory deadline of noon, Nov. 18,” Detzner said. Florida law mandates that if a county’s returns are not received by the Department of State by the deadline, “the date filed returns shall be ignored and the results on file at that shall be certified by the department,” Detzner said.

“Therefore, the results before you reflect the unofficial returns filed from St. Lucie County at noon, Nov. 18,” he went on.

But a final recount, which ended in St. Lucie County on Sunday, did not change the results or give West enough of an edge to trigger an automatic recount, Detzner noted.

Murphy has led by less than 1 percent since election night. Final results Sunday from Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties gave the Democrat a lead over West of 1,904 votes or 0.58 percent.

“If St. Lucie County had timely submitted its retabulated returns, those returns would not have affected the ultimate outcome of any race and would not have placed any race within the margin of a recount,” he said.

Gov. Rick Scott, whose tea party support helped boost him to victory two years ago, said he was confident that Murphy is the winner.

“That’s what all the numbers show,” Scott said. Having to certify the unofficial results is disappointing, Scott said, “but it didn’t impact the election.”

Coalition calls for Florida voting changes, federal investigation

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of unions, civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations is demanding a rewrite of Florida’s election laws and is seeking a federal inquiry into long lines during early voting and on Election Day.

“Now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project that sued the state on behalf of the NAACP after the 2000 presidential debacle. “We will be looking into further investigating what happened in Florida in 2012 just like we did in 2000.”

The Advancement Project, Florida New Majority Education Fund, two Democratic state senators and the union representing state workers said on a conference call with reporters today that long lines voters faced on Election Day and during early voting appeared to disproportionately impact minority voters who typically vote for Democrats.

That proves that lawmakers were seeking to suppress Democratic turnout with HB 1355, a sweeping election bill passed last year that shrank the number of early voting days and affected voters who move from one county to another.

“It’s increasingly coming out that this was not just a case of misadministration or bad management,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority.

Perera pointed to a Palm Beach Post report that found that the architect of HB 1355, Republican Party of Florida general counsel Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, was also a senior lawyer at the state Division of Elections in 2000 and was the mastermind of the error-riddled felon voter purge list.

“As more and more of this comes out, it appears a systematic effort to suppress voters. And that is a crime against democracy. There needs to be investigations about what happened and why, whether that be the Department of Justice, congressional hearings or the UN,” he said. “But people who are responsible for making this not a democracy need to be held accountable.”

The coalition is asking lawmakers to repeal HB 1355 and:
- Reinstate the 14-day early voting period and extend the number of voting hours each day to 12;
- Allow more early voting sites based on the number of voters in each county;
- Give county elections supervisors more flexibility with early voting site locations, now restricted to elections offices, public libraries and city halls;
- Permit people voting outside of their precinct to vote a regular ballot on statewide or county-wide races.

But state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who saw long lines in many precincts in his district, said he holds little hope that the Republican-dominated legislature, which passed the elections bill over the objections of Democrats, and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, would make the changes.

Scott also refused to extend early voting hours despite long lines, Braynon said. The Justice Department has oversight of the Voting Rights Act, which includes provisions making it unlawful to discriminate against minorities in elections.

“One of the first steps is to file a complaint with the federal government, whether it be with the Department of Justice on the Voting Rights Act violation. I think the intent was there and I think we may have it rise to the level of a federal investigation as to was this actually intended voter suppression with a full conspiracy and everything,” Braynon said. “As much as I believe that my colleagues in the legislature believe in democracy, I just don’t believe that the governor, as he has proven with his reaction to the long lines and also with the signing of and why 1355 was even created, that they’re going to assist us with this effort.”

Some elections officials blamed the long lines not only the shortened early voting period but on the lengthy ballot which included 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature. In Palm Beach County during early voting, the ballots had to be printed individually, add to the logjam.

Skeptical judges hear arguments in Bernard appeal of Senate District 27 election

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A three-judge panel appeared skeptical Thursday of state Rep. Mack Bernard’s appeal of a lower court decision affirming his Democratic opponent Jeff Clemens as the winner in a Palm Beach County state senate race.

Bernard appealed Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling that the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was correct in rejecting 40 ballots in the District 27 race that Clemens won by 17 votes.

The canvassing board rejected the ballots because the signatures did not match the voters’ official signatures in the voter registration file, indicating they may have been fraudulent.

Representing Bernard, former state Rep. J.C. Planas argued during a hearing before the 1st District Court of Appeal on Thursday that Lewis should looked beyond just the signatures to determine whether the ballots were valid. Lewis rejected Planas’ request to introduce affidavits of the voters, many of whom are Haitian-American. Planas also said Thursday Lewis should have looked at the entire voter registration forms to determine whether the writing on the absentee ballots was made by the same person.

And, Planas argued, Lewis should have examined the ballots the canvassing board accepted as well as the ones they rejected to ensure that they were consistent.

But the three judges appeared unconvinced, saying that a new Florida law passed last year severely restricted Lewis’s ability to examine anything other than the signatures on the ballots and the signature in the voter registration file. The law was intended to limit protracted legal challenges over absentee ballots in elections.

“It’s almost like you’re asking us to rewrite the statute,” Judge Nikki Ann Clark said shortly after oral arguments began.
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