January 10, 2013

MTV in the Clear on Voting Fraud

TALLAHASSEE -- If there were any questions that those running MTV's Rock the Vote were perpetuating fraud in registering voters, they were answered Thursday.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that it had found no evidence of criminal activity from the Rock the Vote website. It had been alerted to the potential of fraud on Oct. 8 by the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections.

But upon interviewing those involved in 20 registration cases the state had flagged as suspicious, the FDLE determined that the information on the Rock the Vote web site was accurate and the people shown as registering on it had initiated the activity.

More prominent cases of potential fraud await, however. Still outstanding, FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger says, are five separate cases against Strategic Allied Consulting, the private firm based in Arizona that had been hired by the Republican Party of Florida. Also open is the case of the mysterious letters with a Seattle, Wash. post mark that were sent to voters telling them that their registration status was in doubt.

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January 07, 2013

Miami lawmakers file dueling elections bills as advisory group proposes local fixes

In response to the long lines that plagued South Florida polls, two Miami lawmakers have filed legislation to reinstate early voting the Sunday before Election Day.

The proposals by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis follow a recommendation from a Miami-Dade advisory group examining what went wrong in the November presidential election.

The group made additional suggestions Monday, including allowing voters to return absentee ballots in person at their polling places on Election Day, and setting a goal for how long the average voter should wait in line at the polls.

Advisory group members were pleased to learn about Diaz de la Portilla’s legislation, filed Monday, which also would increase the number of early-voting hours per day to 14 from 12.

Margolis’ legislation, which the group also touched on, is far more expansive: It calls for 14 days of early voting — instead of the current eight — and it would allow for more early-voting sites.

“There’s so much pressure to get this done,” Margolis said, who filed her bill in late November. “I can’t believe anyone would be against this.”

In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law sponsored by Diaz de la Portilla’s committee and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 14, and eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day — a day that predominantly Democratic African-American churches had used to drive “souls to the polls.”

December 28, 2012

The rise and fall of Congressman David Rivera

For a decade, David Rivera was a political force to be reckoned with, the consummate operative who had a cat-like ability to survive any scrape — even as investigations swirled around him.

This November, the congressman’s ninth life expired.

Voted out of office as the FBI and IRS pressed on with probes into his personal and campaign finances, Rivera officially becomes a private citizen Thursday. Rivera could be charged soon, sources familiar with the investigation say.

Despite the ongoing investigations, Rivera has steadfastly denied he’s under any scrutiny and is already planning a comeback.

Rivera lived and breathed politics since and before his one term in Congress and four in the state Legislature. He was involved in every type of race: obscure party posts, local commission elections, contests for Florida House speaker, presidential races in the state and the winning campaigns of his close friend, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

But Rivera’s penchant for playing the political game proved to be his downfall as well. Rivera often embroiled himself in needless schemes and some ultimately backfired, say friends, foes and former peers.

“At the end of the day, David’s cleverness was a liability. But until now, it was an asset,” said J.C. Planas, a fellow Miami Republican who served and clashed at times with Rivera from 2002-2010 in the Florida House.

Those who were even closer to Rivera, including Rubio backers, have anonymously described his schemes as bordering on “pathological” and “Nixonian.”

When asked about the comparison to former President Nixon, Rivera said by email “Don’t even know what that means.” He then added a “hee hee” laughter message that went on to reference a famous Nixon 1962 press conference after he lost a California governor’s race.

“But I do know this, you won’t have David Rivera to kick around anymore,” Rivera said.

It’s a vintage Rivera response: funny, edgy and laden with political depth. It also shines a light on Rivera's mercurial nature, which has long concerned some Rubio backers. They’re relieved that Rivera’s political career could be over because it lowers the chances that Rubio — a vice-presidential shortlister in 2012 who won’t rule out a future White House bid — would get caught in the crossfire of a future controversy.

The two still own a Tallahassee home, which a bank started to foreclose in 2010 just as Rubio was running for Senate.

Rivera declined to comment for this article. In the past, he would simply laugh when told he was too crafty for his own good.

While in office, Rivera filed false financial reports by listing a phony company that paid him phantom income, records show. He took a gambling-company payout in secret when he didn’t need to. And former campaign vendors say he was involved in a bizarre election scheme involving stacks of untraceable cash to help attack Democrat Joe Garcia, who ultimately beat him Nov. 6.

The FBI is investigating the latter two cases. The state ethics commission rapped him for 11 instances of non-disclosure in October. And he avoided a 52-count state criminal indictment for his use of campaign and public money when he was a state legislator.

Throughout, Rivera’s explanations often changed when it came to specifics. But his general response was the same: Denial of wrongdoing.

More here

December 23, 2012

Christian-persecuting, Abortion-forcing China loves the Christmas-time business

Happy birthday, Jesus!

Love, China.

For a country that persecutes Christians, China sure profits from Christmas.

So China’s “one-child” policy has led to forced abortions? Well, those nativity sets celebrating a child the state wanted to kill two millennia ago are under $20 at your local store.

“Made in China” is everywhere on the shelves. But it’s nowhere in our political discourse right now.

Contrast that with all the political talk this entire year about the ills of China.

Just after the New Year, Florida airwaves were flooded with deceptive political ads that bashed Republican Newt Gingrich for once backing a bill “supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.”

Mitt Romney, the beneficiary of the attack ads, went on to win Florida’s Jan. 31 primary a few weeks after raising the China-abortion issue at a debate.

A month later, President Obama mentioned China during a Coral Gables fundraiser where he fretted about “shipping jobs overseas.”

“I don’t want this nation to be known just for buying and consuming things,” the president said.

But Obama didn’t talk much about that by the end of the month after his election.

More here

December 20, 2012

Former Sen. Mike Bennett flip-flops on early voting as he prepares for new elections role

From the Bradenton Herald:

Manatee (County)'s newly elected supervisor of elections Wednesday called for more early voting days and more flexibility in setting up early voting sites.

Republican Mike Bennett, who will be sworn in Jan. 6 as the county's new supervisor of elections, echoed remarks made to CNN by Florida Gov. Rick Scott on how to fix the state's embarrassing election day meltdown.

During the Nov. 6 general election, Manatee voters waited up to two hours at the county's sole early voting site; in some counties, the wait was up to six hours.

In 2011, as the president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, Bennett voted to cut back on the number of early voting days. "I don't have a problem making it harder (to vote)," he was quoted as saying. "I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy."

But now that he's about to take over as the county's elections supervisor, Bennett said Wednesday he would like to see the number of early voting days restored from eight to 14, and more flexibility given to local officials in choosing early voting sites.

Bennett also advocated new voter registration cards with photo ID's for all Florida residents, paid for by the state.

Read more here.

December 19, 2012

Miami-Dade report: County to blame for some elections problems

The waits of up to seven hours at some Miami-Dade polls during last month’s presidential election occurred in part because the county failed to estimate how much time it would take to fill out 10- to 12-page ballots, did not open more early-voting sites and decided not draw new precincts this year as planned, a report issued Wednesday concluded.

A last-minute surge in absentee ballots that overwhelmed the elections department staff, and a 12-hour Election Day breakdown of a machine that sorts the ballots also delayed the final results tally by two days, according to the department’s after-action report.

Wednesday’s report was the first comprehensive document outlining all of the factors that contributed to troubles in Miami-Dade. State officials, local elected leaders and county administrators have been piecing it together since the Nov. 6 election.

Some of the blame lies with Florida lawmakers, who placed 11 lengthy constitutional amendments on the ballot and cut the number of early-voting days to eight from 14.

But the 53-page report, while not providing any explicit mea culpas, also places responsibility on the county’s election department, run by Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley.

“It was a combination of factors,” Gimenez told The Miami Herald Wednesday evening. “But I can’t put the blame on any one person or one entity. The blame can go all the way around.”

The report points to seven key factors that affected the election, which was budgeted to cost $11.3 million:

Scott proposes elections changes on CNN but still won’t touch gun policy

Gov. Rick Scott appeared on CNN’s Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien this morning, where he frustrated the morning show host by refusing to give any specifics on policy shifts he could support in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

It was in the final four minutes of the seven-minute long interview that the conversation shifted to Newtown. As O’Brien asked Scott to give specifics and the governor avoided providing them, the host expressed her frustration.

Scott said that he feels sympathy for the families affected by the shooting, that he had directed Florida schools to re-evaluate their security plans and that he supports the Second Amendment. But, even when prompted with specific examples, he refused to say which gun proposals me might support and repeated that that policy debate will come later.

“My approach on things like this is to, one, respect the families, mourn their losses, make sure our schools are safe and then start the conversation and then listen to the Floridians,” the governor said. 

O’Brien vented a bit, saying she wanted politicians to say what they’re going to do and take action before there is another tragedy.

“I actually think that I’ve covered enough of them that if we wait until we bump up against the next tragedy -- and there will be one, there’s no doubt about it -- so I guess I would like to hear from elected officials what are you willing to change,” she said.

The interview started out friendly enough, with Scott praising O’Brien for the care she has shown in covering the mass shooting in recent days. Then they talked for several minutes about the long lines in Florida during early voting and on election day and what Scott is doing to fix the problems.

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December 17, 2012

How FL's new provisional ballot rules poured "sand into the gears" of Election Day

TALLAHASSEE -- It’s the most unreliable way to vote, a last resort in which half of the ballots are disqualified.

Created by Congress a decade ago, the provisional ballot was intended as a final attempt to preserve the right to vote for someone whose eligibility is in doubt.

Florida saw a surge in such ballots in 2012 even though turnout was nearly the same as four years ago.

The reason: a much-maligned law approved by Gov. Rick Scott and the 2011 Legislature that, among other things, required anyone moving to a different county to vote provisionally if they didn’t change their address a month before Election Day.

As a result, provisional ballots jumped an average of 25 percent in counties reviewed by the Herald/Times, further taxing elections officials struggling with extra paperwork from a separate rise in absentee ballots.

“It’s like pouring sand into the gears of the machine,” said Ion Sancho, the Leon County supervisor of elections, who had a 56 percent spike in provisional ballots, driven mostly by incoming Florida State University students.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/17/3145753_provisional-ballots-spike-but.html#storylink=addthis#storylink=cpy

December 14, 2012

Miami-Dade advisory group: Bring back early voting Sunday before Election Day

Miami-Dade County wants more early-voting days — but how many more is up for debate.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, asked the Florida secretary of state earlier this week to consider supporting restoration of 14 voting days, up from the eight days offered this year.

But a county election advisory group agreed Friday to ask state lawmakers for only one more day of early voting: the Sunday before Election Day.

“I’m not sure that you’re going to get 14 days out of the state Legislature,” Gimenez conceded.

The 13-member group was split on what length of time to recommend to county commissioners, who will vote Tuesday on their state legislative priorities for the annual session in Tallahassee next spring.

The county elections department proposed returning to the 14 early-voting days offered before Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law last year that reduced the number of days to eight. The maximum number of hours offered stayed the same on the books, though in practice early voting was extended in 2008.

December 11, 2012

Miami-Dade asks Florida secretary of state to let big counties offer more early-voting days, sites

Miami-Dade’s mayor and elections supervisor asked Florida’s secretary of state on Tuesday to relay three requests to Tallahassee to try to fix last month’s elections woes:

Extend the number of early-voting days. Allow early-voting sites to open at locations other than public libraries and city halls. And cap the number of words in state constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Those changes to state law, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said, could help prevent some of the embarrassing problems that plagued the Nov. 6 presidential election, in which some Miami-Dade voters waited in line for seven hours and wrangled with a 10- to 12-page ballot.

“We can’t have any more ‘one-size-fits-all’ elections,” Gimenez said.

But will the pleas from the state’s largest county be heard in Florida’s Capitol?

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he would carry Miami-Dade’s message to Gov. Rick Scott, who tasked the state’s chief elections officer with visiting five problematic counties and drafting recommendations for improvement. Those suggestions, however, would then require the approval of state legislators who wrote the elections laws in the first place.

Separately, Gimenez has convened a local advisory group to make its own recommendations to the county and the state. The group, which is still awaiting the elections department’s after-action report, meets for the second time Friday.

“There are some things that we’re going to need from the state, but a lot of the things that happened can be rectified here in Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez told reporters Tuesday. 

More here.