Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

voting’

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.

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 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.

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.
(more…)

Gov. Scott: Florida needs more early voting days

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida Gov. Rick Scott told CNN‘s Soledad O’Brien this morning that the state needs a longer early voting period after some voters, including those in Palm Beach County, waited up to eight hours to cast their ballots.

Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature cut the number of early voting days from 14 to 8 in a sweeping election bill last year, despite long lines four years ago that prompted then-Gov. Charlie Crist to extend the hours of early voting. Former GOP officials, including Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Crist, say Republicans wanted to shrink early voting to cut back on Democratic turnout in response to the 2008 turnout that helped boost President Obama into the White House.

It’s the first time Scott, a Republican who came under harsh criticism for refusing to extend the number of early voting days this year, has said the early voting period should be longer.

“We’ve got to restore confidence in our elections,” Scott said.

The governor highlighted three things the state should based on conversations Secretary of State Ken Detzner had with supervisors in “low-performance” counties, including Palm Beach.

_ Length of the ballot: Scott held up a Miami-Dade County ballot that was 12 pages long because it had to be printed in English, Spanish and Creole.
“This took some people 40 minutes to get through. There were local issues, state issues. And it was just too long,” he said.

_ Early voting sites: Scott agreed with supervisors who have for years asked for more flexibility in early voting sites, now limited to city halls, public libraries and elections offices or branches that have been open more than a year.

_ Number of early voting days: “We’ve got to go back and look at number of days we have,” Scott said.

When O’Brien asked Scott if he wasn’t to blame for refusing to extend the number of early voting days despite the lengthy lines, Scott blamed the legislature for changing the time period with the 2011 HB 1355, which he signed into law.

“We had an election bill that was passed my first year” as governor, Scott said. “But we do need change.
We’ve got to have a bipartisan group come together and say we’ve got to improve this. We’ve got to restore the confidence of all elections in Florida.”

O’Brien, who has been covering the massacre of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., grew frustrated when Scott, a lifetime NRA member, sidestepped questions about gun control.

Scott said that the focus right now should be on the families and community in mourning.

“I support the Second Amendment. But what I want to focus on right now is the families, make sure our schools are safe. We’re at a 41 year low in our crime rate…Let’s step back and say what can we improve,” he said.

“With all due respect you’re not going to answer my question,” she said, pressing him for specifics. “I don’t feel like you’re telling me should people not be able to buy those high capacity magazines.”

The unflappable Scott, who rarely raises his voice and has mastered the art of staying on point, didn’t bite.

“My approach is respect the families, mourn their losses, make sure our schools are safe and then listen to Floridians and get their ideas,” he said.

“I hope all those conversations turn to meaningful legislation before I have to go out and cover another tragedy,” O’Brien responded.

Split civil rights commissioners ask for Justice Department probe of Florida election law

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A split U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided Friday not to look into Florida’s election law, rejecting a request from the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation to hold a hearing on the matter.

But four of the commissioners – all Democrats – asked the Justice Department to conduct a probe into the law, passed last year by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. The four commissioners, including Chairman Martin Castro, sent the request to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the civil rights division.

Florida’s Congressional Democrats asked for the hearing after The Palm Beach Post reported that former Florida GOP officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, said that Republicans staff and consultants intentionally designed the law to inhibit Democratic voters.

U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee – and the three other members of the Democratic congressional delegation wrote to the commission late last month that the law “limited access to the polls for minorities, seniors and college students.”

The information raised in the delegations’ letter “raises some serious concerns,” Castro and Commissioners Roberta Achtenberg, Michael Yaki and David Kladney wrote in a letter to Perez dated Monday.

Kladney told The Palm Beach Post late Wednesday that he voted in favor of a commission study of the law because of the long lines experienced by Florida voters. In some places, including Palm Beach County, voters waited up to eight hours before casting their ballots during the early voting period shortened from 14 to eight days under the new law.

“Obviously a lot of people waited in line but others didn’t, voters of all different kinds of political persuasions and political beliefs,” Kladney said. “I think it would be good for the Civil Rights Commission to conduct a fair hearing on the subject because it’s within our charter.”

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.”

Feds propose voting changes

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Justice Department is eyeing changes to the country’s voting processes to address a myriad of problems including long lines and other voting woes that again shined a spotlight on Florida.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the agency’s civil rights division, some proposed fixes during a speech at a George Washington Law School symposium last week.

While he didn’t single out Florida by name, many of Perez’s observations reflected problems encountered by voters, including those in Palm Beach County, during early voting and on Election Day. The Justice Department monitored elections in 23 states, including Florida, this year.

Perez said DOJ is still reviewing the federal monitors’ observations.

“But there is at least one obvious takeaway, which the country has spent much of the last week discussing: there were widespread breakdowns in election administration in state after state, which forced voters in many states to wait in line for hours at a time – in some states and counties, up to six hours or more,” Perez said.

Among the changes proposed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees DOJ’s civil rights division, are:
- Automatic registration of all eligible citizens;
- Same-day registration;
- Allowing voters who move to cast regular ballots, instead of provisional ballots that have a greater chance of being discarded, on Election Day.

But Perez went even farther, saying reform is needed regarding “deceptive election practices,” which he called “dishonest efforts to prevent certain voters from casting their ballots.

Florida was one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws critics say were aimed at making it harder for Democrats and minorities, who helped boost Obama into the White House in 2008, to cast their ballots.

“Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls – from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot,” Perez said.

Perez also addressed the issue of voter fraud, which GOP sponsors and supporters of Florida’s election law (HB 1355) said was the reason behind the changes.

“Let’s work to prevent fraud, but let’s not erect new, unnecessary requirements that have a discriminatory impact. Let’s have a debate on the merits without trying to make it harder for our perceived opponents to vote,” he said.

Provisional ballots are also a concern, Perez said. DOJ is considering whether Congress should impose national standards for counting provisional ballots in federal elections, he said.

And Perez also targeted what he called “partisan mischief” in state and local elections administration.

“We risk leaving our election processes open to partisan mischief – or to the perception of such mischief. We should have a serious conversation about solutions to this risk, including developing an entirely professionalized and non-partisan system for administering our elections,” he said.

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.

PBC open for voting, FL Dems file lawsuit over early voting

Sunday, November 4th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher is allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person today and tomorrow although the early voting period ended yesterday.

And Florida Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit against Bucher, Miami-Dade County and Broward County elections supervisors and Secretary of State Ken Detzner. The lawsuit asks a judge force the three county supervisors to allow absentee voting in person until Tuesday’s election because of long lines.

Bucher said she was aware of the lawsuit and is keeping her offices open today and tomorrow to allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots at the counter. She said the main office will be open today until 5 p.m. and tomorrow from 7 a.m to 7 p.m.

“Our last early voter voted at 2:30 in the morning and people were waiting outside the office when I got there at 7:30 this morning,” Bucher said this morning. “The voters deserve to vote and since we have the ability to allow them to vote an absentee ballot at the counter, I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Voting by absentee ballot at the counter until Election Day is permissible under Florida law.

“Voting with an absentee ballot began weeks before ‘early voting’ and will continue until 7pm Tues. MiamiDade isn’t unique or outside the law,” Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate said in a Twitter message in response to a flurry of traffic about the early voting situation in Florida.

The Florida Democratic Party filed the lawsuit against Detzner and the supervisors in federal court in Miami seeking an emergency injunction to force Bucher, Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes and Miami-Dade County elections supervisor Penelope Townsley to accept the absentee ballots and let voters know their offices are open.

Voters in the three counties have had to wait up to seven hours to cast their ballots, lawyers for the FDP wrote in the lawsuit.

“The extensive lines are the result of polling facilities that are inadequate to meet the needs of Florida electors during the early voting period,” the lawsuit alleges.

Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer asked Detzner to extend early voting to accommodate the lines of people waiting for ballots, but Detzner said that would require a state of emergency.

“Fortunately, no such situation currently exists in the state of Florida,” Detzner wrote in an e-mail to Sawyer yesterday.

The demand for early voting – shrunk from 14 to eight days in an election overhaul passed by lawmakers last year – has created a chaotic situation in Florida. Some supervisors kept their offices open beyond the early voting period but are only accepting provisional ballots. Bucher and Townsley are allowing voters to request early ballots at the counter, but Snipes is only accepting absentee ballots already requested, according to news reports.

Justice Department to monitor elections in 23 states, including FL

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The U.S. Department of Justice will send 780 federal observers and agency workers to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states, including Florida, to monitor and observer elections on Tuesday, DOJ announced in a press release today.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tallahassee on Friday, is sending staff to Duval County, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties on Election Day. DOJ is also monitoring Miami-Dade County elections during early voting, the agency announced today.

Hendry and Hillsborough are two of the five “preclearance” counties – along with Collier, Hardee and Monroe – that require federal approval of election law changes because of a history of discrimination against minorities.

“Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day,” DOJ said in the press release.

The federal observers and personnel will collect information about:
_ Whether voters are treated differently based on their race or language,
_ Whether elections offices are complying with minority or minority language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act,
_ Whether elections offices provide assist to voters who are blind, disabled or can’t read,
_ Whether jurisdictions allow voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot;
_ Whether jurisdictions comply with the voter registration list requirements of the National Voter Registration Act;
_ Whether jurisdictions comply with the provisional ballot requirements of the Help America Vote Act.

The department is sending workers who speak Spanish and a variety of Asian and Native American languages to the monitored areas.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories
Categories
Archives