December 09, 2012

DLP vs. RPOF: Another headache for the Grand Old Party in Florida

A Republican is suing the Republican Party of Florida, saying it disenfranchised him and some Republican voters.

On its face, the lawsuit filed last week by former Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla looks like a simple paperwork fight over an obscure party position.

But the underpinnings of the case are much more complicated, involving the byzantine politics of Miami-Dade and the behind-the-scenes battle in Tallahassee for who leads the Florida House in six years.

The lawsuit is also another public-relations headache for the Republican Party of Florida, which would prefer to focus its energies on bigger matters, like promoting Gov. Rick Scott.

But RPOF has no choice. It has to deal with Diaz de la Portilla.

He was elected Aug. 14 as Republican State Executive Committeeman from Miami-Dade. The party, though, refused to seat him. It said he forgot to submit a loyalty oath to the party in Tallahassee.

Diaz de la Portilla said that’s false.

Continue reading "DLP vs. RPOF: Another headache for the Grand Old Party in Florida" »

December 07, 2012

Thousands of rejected absentee ballots in Florida show perils of voting by mail

Absentee ballots are often touted as a pain-free, easy way to cast a vote without having to stand in long lines at a polling station.

But nearly 2,500 Miami-Dade County voters had their absentee ballots rejected this election in what amounts to a wake-up call for those who ignore or fall prey to the perils and pitfalls of not voting in person. Another 2,100 ballots were rejected in Broward County.

Some voters forgot to sign their ballots. The county elections office negated others because the signature on the ballot didn’t match the voter’s on-file John Hancock. And three voters died in between Election Day and the time they sent in their absentee ballots.

Most absentee ballots in Miami-Dade and Broward were rejected because they arrived well after Nov. 6 at the elections office.

Many voters were angry. They cast their mail-in ballots from home for convenience, only to face a greater inconvenience when their vote didn’t count.

“I voted absentee because I realized lines in Miami-Dade County would be horrendous and I didn’t feel I wanted to deal with that hassle,” Patricia Tepedino, a 45-year-old Democratic Obama voter, wrote in an email.

Continue reading "Thousands of rejected absentee ballots in Florida show perils of voting by mail" »

December 04, 2012

State elections chief will send team to Miami-Dade

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told a Senate committee Tuesday that he plans to dispatch a team of experts to Miami-Dade next week to investigate more fully the "problem" with the recent election, including long lines at the polls and an overwhelming surge of last-minute absentee ballots.

Detzner, who is Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections officer, said Miami-Dade is one of five Florida counties his staff will make fact-finding visits to next week. 

Referring to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Detzner said: "The mayor gets it. He knows what the problem is in Dade County and how to solve the problem."

Testifying before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Detzner said the "problem" could be anything from a lack of early voting sites to a lack of money for office operations.

Detzner said the problem os "underperformance" will also be investigated in Broward, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Lee counties. He said he would report all of his findings to Gov. Rick Scott in January.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, got Detzner to acknowledge that Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley knew six months before Election Day that the ballot would be one of the longest in Florida's history. "They knew about the 10-page ballot as early as May, right?" he asked. "Yes, sir," Detzner replied.

-- Steve Bousquet

November 30, 2012

Christian Slater's provisional ballot rejected by Miami-Dade

Picture 2Actor Christian Slater waited hours in line to vote in Miami-Dade on Election Day -- only to learn his vote didn't count.

Slater on Friday posted a picture on Twitter of his Nov. 26 letter from Miami-Dade County's canvassing board, which addressed him as "Christina Slater," the website BuzzFeed first reported.

"After a thorough review, your provisional bllot was not counted because the signature on the provisional ballot certificate envelope did not match the signature on your voter registration record," according to the letter, which Slater later pulled from Twitter.

Slater had Tweeted about his Election Day-wait as well as his problems casting a ballot.

"Made it in the room only to find out the DMV didn't register me when I got my new license. They asked me if I wanted to reg and I said yes," Slater tweeted on Election Day. "So, now I'm standing by and waiting while this guy tries to get the State on the phone I guess. I really want to vote."

He did, by provisional ballot.

Get ready for more stories like this in Florida. Tens of thousands of provisional ballots were cast in Florida and many of them didn't count.

Provisional ballots are used when a person's voter registration or voting precinct are in doubt. In each of the 67 counties, the provisional ballots are then reviewed by a three-member canvassing board that tries to determine if the vote were legitimately cast before counting it.

November 29, 2012

Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan to address Jack Kemp Foundation

Who came out better after the 2012 elections: Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan?

The Wisconsin congressman is just publicly emerging from his shellshock loss as part of Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign.

But Ryan was picked over the Florida Senator for the VP slot, which gave the House budget chairman load of publicity. And just in time, too, he has to grapple with a DC-novela partly of his own making: the "fiscal cliff."

The two will address the foundation named after another one-time Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sen. Jack Kemp. Both Rubio and Ryan have cited Kemp as an influence.

From an email:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan to address Jack Kemp Foundation" »

November 28, 2012

Advisory group begins examining what went wrong in Miami-Dade elections

For an advisory group convened to find a cure for what ails Miami-Dade’s election system, Wednesday marked the first step toward a diagnosis.

The symptoms are common knowledge by now: Long lines during early voting and on Election Day. Slow counting following a surge in absentee ballots.

But what caused the illness, and how can it be prevented in the future?

To figure it all out, the group appointed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez spent its first meeting getting to know state and local elections laws and practices — a lesson that also offered a glimpse at exactly what went wrong.

The goal, Gimenez told the group, is to make sure that the next time Miami-Dade makes international Election Day headlines, they don’t become fodder for late-night comedians.

“I want our citizens to walk out of the ballot box and say, ‘Wow, that was the way to conduct a presidential election,’ ” he said.

The group heard from the assistant county attorney in charge of elections and from Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley, whose department runs about 20 elections a year.

“We’re very proud of the policies and procedures that we have in place,” she said. “However, we do realize that there’s opportunity for improvement.”

Among the challenges on Nov. 6 that Townsley outlined:

November 20, 2012

Miami-Dade mayor names election advisory group

Two weeks after Election Day, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Tuesday night the 13 members of his election advisory group.

Gimenez convened the group after the election was marked by long voting lines, both during early voting and on Election Day. The group will begin meeting at 9 a.m. next Wednesday.

The group's members include attorneys Kendall Coffey and Robert Fernandez, who represented Gimenez and newly elected Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera in recent elections challenges. Also on the committee: the Rev. Victor Curry; Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert; former County Attorney Murray Greenberg; C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, a gay rights advocacy group; Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La, a Little Haiti-based social services agency; Alice Ancona of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and Lovette McGill, an activist who has been involved with African-American trade unionists.

The mayor had already named four commissioners -- Lynda Bell, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa -- to the group.

"I'm excited to get to work, and our objective is clear: now is the time to for us to take stock of what we did right, what needs to improve, take appropriate action and move forward to make our elections process the best in the nation," Gimenez said in a statement announcing the group's membership. "I want to incorporate the latest technology to make voting fast and easy in our community."

Florida makes it official and certifies election results

Gov. Rick Scott and two other statewide elected officials who comprise the state's Election Canvassing Commission certified the 2012 results Tuesday, an action that formally delivers Florida's 29 electoral votes to President Barack Obama.

Fittingly, however, every county but one reported final results to the state. The lone county to miss the deadline was St. Lucie County, where Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the county failed to submit final official results by the state's deadline of 12 noon on Nov. 18.

"If a county's returns are not received by the Department of State by the deadline, the date filed returns thall be ignored, and the results on file at that time shall be certified by the Department," Detzner told the canvassing board, which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Detzner emphasized that the county's official final numbers, which were determined after the deadline, would not have altered the outcome of any race.

"It's always disappointing when something like that happens, but it didn't impact the election," Scott said afterward.

-- Steve Bousquet

November 19, 2012

Weatherford and Thurston tell parties to stand their ground in upcoming session

TALLAHASSEE -- The day before he takes over the reins of the Florida House, incoming Speaker Will Weatherford told fellow Republican colleagues Monday to hold strong to what they believe is true.

 “Fear is sometimes masked as partisanship, sometimes it’s masked as politics, but political fear, fear of what someone will do if you vote a particular way, what someone will say, what a lobbyist will say, fear is what’s broken Washington D.C.,” Weatherford told the 76-member Republican caucus, just moments after it unanimously nominated him for the speaker’s job. “Fear is what has put America where it is today. We will not lead with fear.”

His words of encouragement came after Republicans lost five seats in the house, the super-majority status that it enjoyed, and Weatherford’s successor as speaker in 2014, Rep. Chris Dorworth, who lost a shocking battle for reelection. 

Weatherford congratulated the caucus for agreeing on Dorworth’s replacement, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, with little melodrama.

 “We could have fought, we could have scratched, we could have argued over who’s going to have power and who’s not, who’s going to be the speaker, who’s not,” Weatherford said. “We didn’t do that, we defied all the odds, we supported a man who I think will be a great speaker of the house.” 

For a man often credited with being bipartisan, he challenged the Republicans to stick to their core principles and to be loyal to each other – all of which could make compromise with the 44 Democrats difficult.

 “I expect you to make your decisions whether I agree or disagree with them, based on principle,” Weatherford said. “If you are standing on principle, you’ll always be standing on solid ground. You’ll always have the underpinnings that will protect you if you are basing it on principle, not politics. I expect you to be loyal, not to me, but to each other. This is a family. We are in this together. And I expect you to treat each other like a family and to be loyal to each other.” 

He called the Republicans a “New Spirit of 76”.

“It will be a spirit of resolve, a spirit of freedom, and a spirit of courage,” he said. “You are part of a family. Tomorrow, the whole family will get together. But you are the nucleus.”

Minutes later, Weatherford’s counterpart, Perry Thurston, the incoming minority leader, told the 44 members of the Democratic caucus that they were “Soul of the Legislature.”

“We will continue to stand up for our unions, we will continue to stand up for every day men and women across Florida working hard every day to make a living,” Thurston said before accepting his nomination as speaker. “We’re going to be here. And we are going to ready to fight. We’re going to be here for Floridians, to move this state in the right direction.”

Thurston braced the caucus for the setbacks ahead.

“We are going to be the loyal opposition,” Thurston said. “Yes, our numbers have increased. Yes, we’re going to be more effective in the House of Representatives.

“We won a lot of debates, a lot of debates, where we wound up losing the vote,” Thurston said, citing their opposition to HB 1355 that limited early voting hours, among other changes. “That will continue to happen, not as much, but that will continue to happen.”

Thurston is expected to cede the speaker’s job to Weatherford in Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, but with a resurgent Democratic Party, the Republicans will have to contend with a more organized opposition.

As Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said Monday in introducing Weatherford, his “Mr. Nice Guy label” may be fleeting.

 “That too shall pass,” Hooper said.

Thrust into spotlight, Miami-Dade supervisor defends elections

Two days after the Nov. 6 election, a weary Penelope Townsley, the Miami-Dade elections supervisor, stood before a gaggle of reporters who peppered her with pointed questions about what had gone wrong on Election Day.

Her week had been fueled by coffee and adrenaline. She arrived at the office at around 5 a.m. Tuesday and didn’t leave until 9 p.m. Wednesday. No change of clothes, no meals, except for a cup of instant oatmeal her staff insisted she wolf down.

By Thursday’s press conference, Miami-Dade had finished counting absentee ballots. Other counties were still going. The state’s presidential results remained too close to call. Everyone wanted to know what had taken so long, and why some voters had to wait in such slow lines.

The job of answering fell to Townsley, a previously little-known figure in county government thrust into the unforgiving elections spotlight. While admitting some problems, she has staunchly defended her department’s performance in the first presidential election under her charge.

“I think it was generally a very good election,” she said in an interview last week. “We knew it was going to be a challenge going into it.”

But some outsiders have disagreed, noting that Florida — and Miami-Dade and Broward counties in particular — once again became the butt of post-election jokes, and that some voters were deterred by the lengthy waits.

Speaking on Spanish-language television two days after the election, former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola called for Townsley’s ouster.

“Just because Broward County got a double ‘F’, we still got an ‘F’, didn’t we?” Arriola later told The Miami Herald. “This is very poor preparation. I am absolutely adamant that if she’s in charge, she needs to pay the price.”

But Townsley’s boss, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, has backed his appointee. Unlike in every other county in the state, the Miami-Dade elections supervisor is not elected. More here.