Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you. The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2. Only two other states have that tough a policy. Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer. Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.
Florida: Democrats, stung by low turnout, consider shifting Florida’s election schedule | Tampa Bay Times
After yet another defeat blamed on low voter turnout, some Florida Democrats want to change the rules and elect the governor in the same year voters pick the president — when turnout is always much higher. In the aftermath of Charlie Crist’s narrow loss to Gov. Rick Scott, strategists are plotting how to put an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would shift statewide races back to presidential years, as they were in Florida until 1964. “Our state leaders should be elected by the greatest number of people,” said Ben Pollara, a Miami strategist who worked on the medical marijuana campaign. “How can you argue that having fewer people participate in the political process is good for the state?” Crist adviser Kevin Cate wrote an opinion column, which got picked up by liberal blog the Daily Kos, in favor of shifting statewide elections. It launched an online petition that argues: “More Floridians deserve to have their voice heard.” Backers have sought legal guidance from Jon Mills, dean of the University of Florida law school and a former House speaker, who also worked on the medical marijuana campaign.
A coalition of groups in Florida are preparing to try to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot in Florida that would restore the voting rights of most individuals with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentence. These groups include the ACLU of Florida, the League of Women Voters, Faith in Florida and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The proposed constitutional amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. The state’s current policy regarding ex-felons was an issue that Charlie Crist occasionally discussed during the recent gubernatorial campaign. When he took office after being elected in 2007, the then Republican governor was able to persuade a majority of the Florida Cabinet to change the policy to provide ex-offenders convicted of less serious offenses the right to regain their rights without a hearing, while those convicted of crimes such as murder required a more thorough investigation and a hearing. But that was repealed in 2011, when newly elected Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the process was too easy for released felons. Shortly after she made those comments, she and the rest of the Cabinet scrapped the process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.
It’s the nightmare scenario nobody wants to discuss: an election night result for Florida governor that’s so close it demands a recount. “Oh, no, the R-word,” said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. “It’s going to be a close one. We’re ready.” It’s Florida. Anything can happen. With polls showing Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist in a virtual deadlock, both sides are making plans in case of a stalemate next week. Republicans and Democrats would mobilize armies of lawyers in a frantic search for ballots, triggering memories of the agonizing and chaotic five-week Florida recount that followed the 2000 presidential election. “Expect the unexpected,” said Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent.
While Florida’s relationship with early voting is still relatively new, the honeymoon may already be over. But to understand the hot and cold affair, it is helpful to look back on the couple’s history. Former Governor Jeb Bush first signed early voting into Florida law in 2004, providing early voting fifteen days before an election, eight hours per weekday and eight hours per weekend. Only a short year later, Bush and a Republican legislature cooled on the partnership, dropping the last Monday of early voting before a Tuesday election. The relations heated up again when former Governor Charlie Crist signed an executive order mandating that early voting be extended in response to overwhelming voter turnout for the 2008 Presidential election. Under the leadership of Governor Rick Scott, Florida again turned its back on early voting in 2011 by passing a controversial law that reduced early voting to eight days before an election for a minimum of six hours and a maximum of twelve hours per day. The 2011 spat resulted in Florida’s embarrassing performance during the 2012 Presidential elections, where hundreds of thousands of Florida voters were discouraged by long lines and polling stations remained open hours after they were scheduled to close. All of which brings us to our most recent development, in which Rick Scott has given the reigns of the rocky relationship to county election supervisors. This newest law allows early voting to range from eight to fourteen days before an election, for a minimum of eight hours a day and a maximum of twelve hours a day. Of course, these extremely wide bounds left open the question of how early voting would actually be implemented on the ground. As we complete primaries ahead of the 2014 round of elections, the results are finally in.
National: Republicans in tight midterm races use election rules changes to increase odds | The Guardian
In 2007 Charlie Crist, the then Republican governor of Florida, astonished political friend and foe alike by putting a stop to what he saw as the state’s iniquitous practice of withholding the vote from released prisoners. He announced that non-violent former felons who had done their time would automatically have their right to vote restored to them. It was no small affair. In Florida, 1.3 million people have prior felony convictions, making this a very sizeable chunk of a total eligible electorate of 11 million. Former felons are disproportionately drawn from poor and minority communities, and as such, if they vote at all, they tend to lean Democratic, making the decision by a Republican governor all the more remarkable. But it didn’t last long. Four years later, Crist’s successor as governor, the Tea Party favourite Rick Scott, made a point of reversing the decision. That could prove crucial on 4 November for Florida’s GOP candidates, not least for Scott himself, who is in a bitter fight for re-election, with polls putting him neck-and-neck with his challenger – none other than Charlie Crist, now standing as a Democrat.
Changes under Republican Gov. Rick Scott are making it more difficult for Florida’s former felons to get their voting rights restored, which critics say has suppressed the minority vote and hurt Democratic candidates. As one of his first actions after taking office in 2011, Scott, as chairman of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, undid automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-offenders that previous Gov. Charlie Crist helped adopt in 2007. Since then, the number of former felons who have had their voting rights restored has slowed to a trickle, even compared with the year before Crist and the clemency board helped make the process easier.
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.
Just when it seemed that the democratic process had reached its apotheosis with the election of America’s first black president, a political earthquake occurred in 2010 that threatened all that had been accomplished since 1965. Two years after Obama’s election, the midterm elections saw a conservative backlash that swept Republicans back into office in droves. As the media focused on the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and increases in the Senate, more important developments were occurring closer to home. Republicans now controlled both legislative bodies in 26 states, and 23 won the trifecta, controlling the governorships as well as both statehouses. What happened next was so swift that it caught most observers off guard — and began surreptitiously to reverse the last half-century of voting rights reforms.
Changes under Republican Gov. Rick Scott are making it more difficult for Florida’s former felons to get their voting rights restored, which critics say has suppressed the minority vote and hurt Democratic candidates. As one of his first actions after taking office in 2011, Scott, as chairman of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, undid automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-offenders that previous Gov. Charlie Crist helped adopt in 2007. Since then, the number of former felons who have had their voting rights restored has slowed to a trickle, even compared with the year before Crist and the clemency board helped make the process easier. Civil liberties activists say Florida’s rights restoration rules are the most restrictive in the nation and have the effect, if not the intent, of suppressing the minority vote. A disproportionate number of black Floridians are convicted felons – 16.5 percent of Floridians are black, yet black inmates make up 31.5 percent of the state’s prison population – meaning a higher percentage of African-Americans don’t have the right to vote after completing their sentences. And black voters tend to support Democrats. Exit polls show only one in 10 supported Scott in the 2010 election.
Facing a highly critical group of black legislators, Gov. Rick Scott largely defended his record Tuesday but distanced himself from a controversial election law that led to fewer early-voting days and long lines. Scott agreed with black lawmakers that the 2011 election law contributed to the chaos at the polls in November, including long lines all over the state and up to seven-hour waits in Miami-Dade. But Scott, who is seeking re-election in 2014, said it was largely a decision of the Legislature. “It was not my bill,” Scott said. “We’ve got to make changes, I agree. … The Legislature passed it. I didn’t have anything to do with passing it.” Scott signed the bill into law in 2011. His administration spent more than $500,000 in legal fees in a largely successful defense of the law, though a federal judge struck down new restrictions on groups that register voters.
On election night, President Barack Obama thanked voters who braved long lines at polling places throughout the country. People waited as long as seven hours in some precincts in Florida, with some still waiting to cast a ballot long past midnight. In other states, such as Virginia and Maryland, lines also stretched into hours. “By the way, we have to fix that,” Mr. Obama said. But with the presidential election over, comprehensive overhauls to the patchwork of state election laws remain a distant goal. More than a decade after the 2000 Florida vote-count debacle, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week spotlighted complaints about the casting and counting of votes that persist despite a package of post-2000 adjustments.
Senate Democrats and Republicans sparred Wednesday over whether voter ID laws, attempts to purge voter rolls and restricted early voting were legitimate efforts to stop fraud or mainly Republican strategies to hold down Democratic votes. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a onetime Republican who recently turned Democrat, said the state GOP aimed its efforts at Hispanics and African-Americans. They cited as one example the elimination of early voting on the Sunday before the election, when members of those groups historically vote after church.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are sparring over whether voter ID laws and restricted early voting are attempts to disenfranchise African-American and Hispanic voters. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who recently became a Democrat, said their state’s Republican Party deliberately tried to suppress the vote from those groups.
Florida: Charlie Crist trashes Gov. Rick Scott in Senate hearing over bad voting ‘joke’ | MiamiHerald.com
In a prelude to a long and bitter campaign, former Gov. Charlie Crist pointedly criticized Gov. Rick Scott during a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday over an elections law that led to voting troubles and helped turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.” Crist’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony came just hours after a new poll showed he’s more popular than the current governor, who is preparing to face his predecessor on the 2014 ballot. Before and since Election Day, Scott has been under fire for an elections law he signed that cut back the days of in-person early voting and increased the size of voters’ ballots, which led to embarrassingly long lines.
Former Florida Governor Charles Crist Jr. on Wednesday urged Congress to consider new national standards to make voting easier and more accessible. Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights, Crist, who was a Republican when he was governor from 2007 to 2011 and is now a Democrat, said senators should “think long and hard” about national standards that include a “lengthy” window for in-person early voting, and other “common sense provisions.” In Florida, many people who wanted to vote early during 2012 election had to wait in lines for hours, making the state “a late-night TV joke,” he said. “I think that what all of us want are free, open and fair elections for everyone,” Crist said.
Florida: As Charlie Crist testifies before Congress on Florida’s voting problems, Gov. Rick Scott voices support for changes | Tampa Bay Times
Former Gov. Charlie Crist condemned Florida’s election law before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, accusing the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott of bringing changes “designed to encourage a certain partisan outcome.” Crist, who registered as a Democrat last week and is a potential rival to Scott in 2014, spoke of “horrifying lines” voters endured and called for a reinstatement of early voting days that were cut before the election. But a couple of hours before the hearing, Scott himself was calling for change, saying on CNN that supervisors of election need flexibility on the size of polling locations and that early voting could be expanded.
Florida: Former Gov. Charlie Crist to testify in U.S. Senate about Florida election law | Palm Beach Post
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will testify about the electoral process in Florida on Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. Crist left the Republican Party at the end of his gubernatorial term in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent when it became apparent he would lose the primary to Marco Rubio. Last week he registered as a Democrat and he has told The Palm Beach Post he is weighing whether to run for governor as a Democrat in 2014. Crist has been critical of changes made to Florida election laws by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the past two years.
Jim Greer has not been so tight with the Florida Republican establishment lately. Greer, the former Republican state party chairman, is under indictment for misusing party funds. I’m guessing that he was not pleased to see former colleagues line up to testify against him. So when he talks about how party operatives were fairly obsessed with tamping down voter turnout in the 2012 general election, party officials can retort that Greer is just out for revenge. “Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” a party spokesman said after Greer told the Palm Beach Post last week that the party had been hell-bent on cutting back on early voting since the 2008 election. “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told the Post.
Pizza, popsicles and port-a-potties may have helped secure the decisive win for President Barack Obama and other Democrats in Florida. Obama’s data-driven campaign machine and the popular president himself deserve most of the credit. But the GOP-majority legislature may have unwittingly given Obama a boost with a restrictive election law reportedly targeted at Democratic and minority voters. Progressives, left-leaning groups and the NAACP, which did not endorse Obama, rallied in opposition to the law and used it to motivate voters, including blacks for whom restrictions on early voting triggered a generations-old sensitivity to having their vote suppressed.
Six congressional Democrats are calling for a federal investigation into a 2011 Florida voting law following a Palm Beach Post report that suggested Republicans intended to suppress Democratic turnout with the new rules. The multi-pronged law, H.B. 1355, put restrictions on third-party registration groups that were so burdensome they were ultimately struck down by a federal court. It also reduced early voting from 14 to eight days, ending voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when many minority voters participated in Souls to the Polls events in 2008.
For better or worse, the central principle behind the unlimited contributions to super PACs that will dominate this election cycle is simple: Money is speech, and we cannot limit speech. Yet many who hold this freedom as an article of faith are all too willing to limit an equally precious form of speech: voting. If we don’t speak out against these abuses, we may soon learn the hard way the danger of that double standard. And a dozen years after the 2000 recount that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, my state of Florida threatens to be ground zero one more time. As Florida’s attorney general from 2003 to 2007, I strongly enforced the laws against illegal voting. When swift action was necessary, I took it without hesitation. I did so out of respect for our democracy — voting is a precious right reserved only for U.S. citizens — but I’m concerned that zealots overreacting to contrived threats of voter fraud by significantly narrowing the voting pool are doing so with brazen disrespect and disregard for our greatest traditions.