Seeking to hold Gov. Rick Scott to a higher level of scrutiny should his administration call for a purge of Florida’s voting rolls in 2016, Democratic lawmakers have filed measures to mandate the listing of purged voters according to party affiliation. Under SB 736 and HB 523, election supervisors would be required to give the Florida Department of State bi-annual lists of purged Democrats, Republicans and those who belonged to other party affiliations in each of the state’s 67 counties. The Scott administration has been roundly criticized by election supervisors and voting rights groups for ordering a problem-riddled voter purge in 2012. From a list of roughly 180,000 voters the administration believed to be non-citizens and therefore illegally registered, just 85 were identified as such and removed from the voting rolls.
Florida: Auditor general’s report critical of how Florida handles voter information | Tampa Bay Times
A highly critical state audit casts new doubt on whether Florida is ready to count votes in the 2016 presidential election and puts added pressure on Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official to show improvement. The report by the state auditor general, an independent officer hired by the Legislature, criticizes the Department of State for…
As Florida heads toward a historic presidential election cycle with two home state favorites running, those in charge of orchestrating convenient, snafu-free voting statewide have charged that the administration of Gov. Rick Scott too often works against them, rather than with them. The ongoing tension was on display in Orlando Wednesday, as Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s top elections official, addressed a conference of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. Association leaders are still fuming over Detzner earlier this year trying to torpedo online voter registration in Florida, which is offered in at least 20 other states and had overwhelming bipartisan support. His opposition came after he told supervisors he supported the initiative.
Voters in more than half the states will soon be able to register online, rather than filling out a paper form and sending it in. Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, almost all in the past few years. Seven other states and the District of Columbia are now in the process of doing so. That includes Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last Friday requiring the state to allow online voter registration by 2017. Online voter registration has become so popular because election officials say it’s more efficient than a paper-based system, and cheaper. Voters like it because they can register any time of day from home, said David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “What election officials are finding, is they’re saving a ton of money, because they’re having to process a lot fewer pieces of paper by hand, right before an election, and get that into the system,” he said.
After months of debate in the state capitol and weeks of worrying in county election offices, Florida Governor Rick Scott has now signed legislation that will make the Sunshine State the latest to move toward online voter registration. … Florida’s experience on OVR is just the latest example of how the policy debate has shifted on election issues in recent years. At this time four years ago, the hot topic was voter ID and all the divisive partisan heat that brings. While ID legislation lives on in some legislatures – and clearly in many legislators’ hearts – OVR’s emergence as the new trend in legislatures is quite remarkable.
Governor Scott has little more than a week to decide on whether to approve a bill that would lead to online-voter registration in Florida. The bill was approved despite opposition from Secretary of State Ken Detzner. It is one of 68 bills that the Senate sent to Scott last week, triggering a May 22 deadline for the governor to sign, veto or allow the bills to become law without his signature, according to a list on the governor’s office website.
Florida: Despite pushback from Rick Scott admin, online voting bill goes to the governor’s desk | SaintPetersBlog
As part of an en masse drop of dozens of bills onto Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk courtesy of the Florida Senate, a bill to allow online voting registration sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Clemens now sits before the Governor’s Office, awaiting his review. Scott administration Secretary of State Ken Detzner openly opposed the measure, SB 228, as it wended its way through committee, saying it would interfere with already ongoing efforts to revamp the state’s voter rolls and registration system.
The Florida House agreed Tuesday to allow online voter registration but tacked on a provision aimed at heightening cyber-security — sending the measure back to the Senate for final approval. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s top elections official and an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, has opposed the legislation, which sets online registration to begin in 2017. Detzner cautioned that problems could emerge with the measure that has drawn widespread support from lawmakers, county elections supervisors, and voter advocacy groups. The House approved the measure (CS/SB 228) 109-9 Tuesday. But the move came after Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, added a provision that authorizes the Scott administration to conduct a “comprehensive risk assessment” of online registration before the system is made available to the public.
The Florida Senate on Monday overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires the state to create an online voter registration application by 2017. The 34 to 3 vote sends the bill to the House, where passage is also expected, despite strong opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. To underscore bipartisan support for online voter registration, the Senate’s Republican leadership left a Democratic senator as the bill’s sponsor. The bill (SB 228) is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. Three Republican senators voted no.
Gov. Rick Scott’s chief elections official is in big trouble with two key groups: state legislators who write the voting laws and county supervisors who run elections. Secretary of State Ken Detzner can’t afford to alienate either constituency as Florida heads toward a presidential election in 2016, when the eyes of the nation will again be on the biggest battleground state. Lawmakers blasted Detzner Wednesday for fighting their plan to let people register to vote online by October 2017. Elections officials, meanwhile, were livid to learn that Detzner released private data on more than 45,000 voters — including judges and police officers — and didn’t alert them immediately.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is quietly trying to scuttle legislation that would allow people to register to vote online in Florida, a stance that county election supervisors call “perplexing,” “inaccurate” and “erroneous.” No one from Scott’s administration has publicly opposed the idea. The administration’s behind-the-scenes opposition has opened a new rift between Scott’s office and county supervisors and stirred new speculation that the Republican governor may not want to expand the pool of voters as he explores a possible U.S. Senate bid in 2018. Florida would become the 25th state with an online voter registration program under a bill (SB 228) sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. The idea has broad bipartisan support as well as the backing of AARP, League of Women Voters and Disability Rights of Florida, and it unanimously passed a Senate committee Thursday.
Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t like to lose. But he lost an important court case dealing with voting rights and last week he decided to cut his losses, along with those of Florida taxpayers who have footed the bill for more than 2 ½ years. Scott dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state’s efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits “systematic” removals less than 90 days before a federal election. And he issued a statement that signaled a new willingness to work with county elections supervisors, who opposed the purge. “Florida is in an excellent position to conduct fair elections,” Scott’s statement said. “I am confident that the 2016 presidential election cycle will put Florida’s election system in a positive light thanks to the improvements made by our supervisors of elections, the Legislature and the Department of State.” As a result, Scott is facing criticism from the right.
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.
As expected, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday ordered a special election for the vacant seat in Florida’s House District 64 for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The special primary election will be Feb. 10, with a special general election set for April 21. That means nearly 158,000 district residents won’t have representation in the state House of Representatives for the bulk of next year’s legislative session, which runs March 3-May 1. The move also potentially resets the field, with a new – though abbreviated – round of candidate qualifying set for 8 a.m. Dec. 15-noon Dec. 16. The previous incumbent, Republican Jamie Grant, on Monday said he will again file to run. He’s represented the district, covering northwest Hillsborough and eastern Pinellas, since 2010. His GOP challenger, Tampa engineer Miriam Steinberg, was less sure she would run again. In non-binding Nov. 4 results, Grant had won with 59.5 percent of the vote.
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.
More details and statistics about turnout in the August primary are emerging and stirring up some chatter about the possibility of including “none of the above” in all races. First, the new, party turnout numbers: 54,409 Republicans cast primary ballots, or 18.6 percent of the total turnout; 21,485 Democrats voted, or 31.9 percent, and 12,111 “others” also voted, 10.3 percent. Since Republicans have more and more hotly contested races to vote in, their higher turnout is usual for Lee, even though it’s not even half the almost 170,000 registered Republicans. But in the GOP primary for governor, where Gov. Rick Scott faced virtually nonexistent and unknown competition and all Republicans could vote, he collected 48,284 votes, meaning 5,125 Republicans went to the polls and did not vote for Scott. His two opponents collected about 4,200 votes, but given their lack of campaign activity or name ID, it leads to questions about whether those votes were really for them, or “anybody but” Scott. And there’s still 1,000 or so GOP votes “missing” in that race.
A redistricting battle that has gripped Florida for more than a year could force Republican leaders to redraw the state’s political boundaries just months ahead of the midterm elections. Several of the state’s Republican-drawn congressional districts – which one political scientist described as the most skewed he has ever studied – have come under attack by voting rights groups that allege the maps unfairly favor GOP candidates. That coalition, led by the League of Women’s Voters, has argued that Republican legislators and staffers collaborated with political consultants to create the maps, which were approved by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. The case is being heard now in Leon County Circuit Court after the League filed a lawsuit alleging that the districts violate Florida’s “Fair Districts” law, which was approved by more than 60 percent of voters in 2010. If the lawsuit succeeds, the borders will have to be redrawn before the midterm elections this fall.
Hillsborough County elections officials are supposed to flag any voter registration that’s submitted with a business rather than a home address, but they’ve discovered that a filter designed to help them with the process hasn’t worked for years A citizen alerted the elections office in December to 117 names he found on the voter rolls listing UPS stores as home addresses. UPS, like the U.S. Postal Service, rents secure space for mail delivery. A search afterward by the elections office added 34 names to the list, for a total of 151. “If we had known they were on there, we would have taken appropriate steps to get them off or get them in a right residential address,” Elections supervisor Craig Latimer said. It turns out the problem isn’t new; a Tampa Tribune analysis shows that 106 of those voters had been on the supervisor’s rolls at those addresses in March 2012. Latimer said his research shows many of the voters had been on the rolls since the 1990s.
Florida: Scheme to intimidate Florida GOP voters results in plea deal for Seattle man | Miami Herald
A plan to get back at Florida Republicans for a 2012 purge aimed at ineligible voters backfired on a Seattle man, who now faces up to six years in prison and more than $350,000 in fines. According to a U.S. Attorney’s Office plea agreement filed Monday in Tampa’s U.S. District Court, James Webb Baker Jr., 58, sent about 200 letters a month before the 2012 presidential election to prominent Florida Republicans in an effort to intimidate them and interfere with their voting rights. When contacted by phone in Seattle, Baker referred questions to his lawyer, Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons. “Mr. Baker regrets the events which led to these charges,” Fitzgibbons said in a statement. “He has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his actions and we look forward to the conclusion of this matter.” Though he lives 3,000 miles away, Florida politics pulled Baker into his current legal troubles. Around October 2012, Baker had read online articles about efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remove people from the official county lists of eligible voters. The stories reported that county officials were identifying registered voters whose eligibility was questioned, then sending them letters informing them they may be ineligible to vote.
Florida has ditched a controversial GOP-backed program aimed at catching voters who are registered in multiple states, which some voting-rights advocates say can make it easier for eligible voters to be wrongly purged from the rolls. It’s the same program whose data were used for an eye-catching recent report suggesting that more than 35,000 people may have voted in North Carolina and another state in 2012—a conclusion that was quickly debunked by numerous experts. Florida’s decision to leave the Interstate Crosscheck system, created by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, was first reported Friday by the Miami Herald. “The Department of State and Supervisors of Elections currently work with elections officials in other states to update registrations regarding residency, and we are always exploring options to improve the elections process,” Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, told msnbc in a statement. The state’s move is striking because, under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Florida has led the way in aggressively removing voters from the rolls. A 2012 effort that aimed to find non-citizens purged numerous eligible voters, including a 91-year old World War II vet. A court recently declared the move illegal. Last month, Detzner announced that a new bid to cut voters from the rolls would be delayed until next year.
Florida: Court rules Florida voter purge illegal, but will it stop GOP voting tweaks? | Christian Science Monitor
A panel for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Tuesday deemed illegal a 2012 attempt by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to purge the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens and other ineligible voters. The ruling, which the justices said was intended to thwart future questionable roll purges, comes amid a new wave of pitched battles between Republicans who say they want to make voting fairer by curbing voting-booth shenanigans and Democrats who say adding restrictions to voting is a blatant attempt to keep poor people and blacks – many of whom are Democrats – from casting ballots. Since the US Supreme Court unshackled most Southern states from the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act last year, Republican-led legislatures have launched efforts to create what they say are more uniform election systems to ensure that each vote is equal. Republicans in Ohio and Wisconsin have curbed weekend voting, which critics say would most affect blacks who often carpooled to polling places from church on Sunday. In North Carolina, Republicans have stiffened early-voting and registration rules.
Gov. Rick Scott’s chief elections official is suspending a politically charged election-year plan to purge noncitizens from Florida’s voter rolls, citing changes to a federal database used to verify citizenship. The about-face Thursday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner resolves a standoff with county elections supervisors, who resisted the purge and were suspicious of its timing. It also had given rise to Democratic charges of voter suppression aimed at minorities, including Hispanics crucial to Scott’s re-election hopes. Detzner told supervisors in a memo that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is redesigning its SAVE database, and it won’t be finished until 2015, so purging efforts, known as Project Integrity, should not proceed. “I have decided to postpone implementing Project Integrity until the federal SAVE program Phase Two is completed,” Detzner wrote.
Florida: State’s new estimated cost for special elections: $2.1 million and growing | Naples Daily News
The state’s total cost for special elections has increased from $500,000 to $2.1 million, according to state budget staff. When a special election is needed, local election officials pick up the initial cost. After a verification process, the state is required to reimburse local supervisors of elections for the cost needed to conduct those elections. When the Department of State made its initial budget request in January, it thought $500,000 would be enough to cover the tab. It’s the same number requested in Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget. The House’s proposed budget has requested $2.1 million in already needed reimbursements, while the Senate wants $2.6 million for any potential future special elections.
Seven months after Gov. Rick Scott announced a new purge of Florida’s voting rolls, county supervisors of elections are still waiting for the state to provide them with lists of suspected ineligible voters. The purge isn’t on hold, the state just isn’t in a hurry. “We do not have a set timeline to start the proposed process,” Florida Department of State spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said Friday. Meanwhile, midterm elections and Scott’s bid for a second term approach. It’s too late for such a purge to affect Southwest Florida’s special election to fill Trey Radel’s congressional seat. Radel resigned Jan. 27 after pleading guilty to cocaine possession and serving a stint in rehab. Ineligible voters would have to be removed by 90 days before a federal election, according to federal law.
Florida is once again trying to constrain voter rights by restricting satellite locations where citizens can deposit absentee ballots. The Legislature is considering a bill that would ban county elections supervisors from accepting completed absentee ballots at branch libraries and tax collector offices, in response to Pinellas County’s defiance of a state order to quit that practice. That voter-friendly option is not only convenient but also saves money, according to several elections supervisors. Florida should allow the eastiest balloting possible, not the toughest.
At the urging of state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate will take up voting law changes that include preventing counties from using satellite locations where voters can drop off absentee ballots. The proposal is aimed at Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, but it antagonized two other supervisors who say dropoff sites save money and are convenient for voters. The Senate plan follows a confrontation in December between Clark and Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who ordered an end to dropoff sites because no law allows it. Clark continues to defy the directive and is using five sites in the Congressional District 13 special election.
Election supervisors and the League of Women Voters have a new complaint with Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature over early voting. After years of complaints by supervisors who struggled with historically long lines at the polls in 2012, lawmakers last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgronds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers. But when the city of Gainesville — which is heavily Democratic — asked if it could use the University of Florida student union for early voting in next month’s municipal elections, the state said no. “The Reitz Union is a structure designed for, and affiliated with, a specific educational institution,” says an advisory opinion from Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “The terms ‘convention center’ and ‘government-owned community center’ cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union.”