November 19, 2012

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.

November 18, 2012

Miami-Dade put off drawing new precincts, which contributed to long Election Day waits

The Miami-Dade Elections Department had a plan earlier this year to evenly distribute voters across polling places on Election Day, to avoid packing thousands of people into precincts where the population had boomed.

But the plan was put on hold because county leaders didn’t want to confuse voters by changing their polling places before a presidential election.

So on Nov. 6, voters went to their familiar precincts — only to find, in some cases, lines that dragged on for hours.

Several factors contributed to the waits, including a 10-page ballot. But holding off on “reprecincting” was probably not the best idea in areas that saw throngs of voters, Mayor Carlos Gimenez conceded after Election Day.

The flip side, he noted, could have also caused problems: Voters could have showed up at their usual precincts only to be sent to new ones elsewhere.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Gimenez said. “That wasn’t done, because certain commissioners thought that that could be a way of suppressing the vote.”

The decision, however well-intentioned, resulted in precincts with wildly different numbers of registered voters. The one with the most — South Kendall Community Church in Country Walk — has 8,303. Of that number, 2,053 — about 38 percent of all votes cast in that precinct — showed up on Election Day, when waits were more than five hours.

Why were Miami-Dade voting lines so long?

Alarmed by the long lines for early voting, Norma Bonilla decided to cast her ballot instead on Election Day, arriving just before closing time at the South Kendall Community Church in the Country Walk neighborhood.

“I said, ‘Forget it, I’m not going to waste my Saturday,’ ” Bonilla, a 44-year-old nurse, said as she stood in line to vote on the evening of Nov. 6. “Now I just hope I’m not here longer than an hour and a half.”

But Bonilla, like thousands of others, waited much longer than that. Her precinct was one of the largest voting stations in Miami-Dade, and one of the most log-jammed. Voters there waited five hours or more to cast their ballots.

Voters faced similarly slow lines in at least 50 polling stations around Miami-Dade — far more than publicly acknowledged by county officials in the wake of the election, a Miami Herald analysis of Election Day voting has found. These delays contributed to Florida’s renewed reputation as the state that couldn’t count straight, with the final results in the presidential race tabulated four days after every other state in the union.

This time, the problems weren’t with hanging chads — the culprits in the notorious 2000 presidential election — unreliable counts, or fears about paperless electronic voting. Instead, the hang-up was primarily herding throngs of voters through their precincts as they faced an extraordinarily time-consuming ballot.

Why so many delays in Miami-Dade? The reasons were numerous, but the longest waits came in large precincts with more than 1,000 voters, many of whom arrived after work. Put simply, the voter bottlenecks overwhelmed even the most well-equipped precincts. Most of the problems were in polling sites in Kendall, other southwestern suburbs and West Miami-Dade — areas with a spike in both residents and voters in recent years.

Other wild cards in the equation: the deployment and competence of poll workers hired for Election Day.

Elections officials acknowledged there were voting delays, but maintained that they were limited to a few areas. In the days after the election, county officials said as few as a half-dozen of the county’s 541 polling locations suffered unreasonable delays.

But records show that 51 voting sites stayed open at least four hours after the 7 p.m. voting deadline.

More from Douglas Hanks, Jay Weaver and Scott Hiaasen here.

View an interactive map of the longest and shortest lines here.

November 16, 2012

Dems to Scott: Stop meddling

Democrats charged Friday that Gov. Rick Scott is meddling in the U.S. Congressional race between Patrick Murphy and Republican Allen West.

 A judge denied a demand by West, the tea party-based incumbent, for a recount of early voting ballots in St. Lucie County, which makes up the 19th Congressional District along with parts of Palm Beach and Martin counties. Murphy led West by 1,907 votes. Earlier in the week, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent a three-member team to audit the results, according to news reports.

That prompted Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, to issue a statement.

“In a clear effort to overturn an election result after having lost at the ballot box, Allen West has now run to Governor Rick Scott to needlessly interfere with and politicize a non-partisan election process.

"All votes in this election were counted fairly and accurately, and Allen West has lost beyond the mandatory recount range. Having Governor Scott intervene is outrageous and inappropriate. After disenfranchising Florida voters by cutting down early voting days and creating extraordinarily long lines at the polls, Governor Scott is now trying to blatantly overturn an election result he disagreed with and undermine Gertrude Walker, a three-decade veteran of the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office. Governor Scott needs to remove himself from this process immediately."

That led Chris Cate, the spokesman for Detzner, to issue a response.

Claims that there is any interference by the state in this election are wholly inaccurate and unhelpful to the voters who need to know their votes have been counted accurately. We have a responsibility to ensure Florida’s election laws are interpreted and enforced properly, and our involvement in St. Lucie County has only been observational with the purpose of protecting the voice of the voters and ensuring fair elections were conducted in all of the St. Lucie County races, not just the highest profile contests.


November 15, 2012

Democratic leader pressures Scott, Legislature to implement Obamacare

The incoming Democratic leader in the Florida House is putting pressure on elected officials (read: Republicans) to get moving on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

“With the election over, today I am urging Governor Scott to take action to implement the nation’s health care reform law,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, in a statement.

Thurston said he was encouraged by Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to drop his staunch opposition to the president’s healthcare reform, known as Obamacare. However, the Democrats are putting pressure on Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to take action on implementing the law in order to meet federal deadlines that will be hitting in the coming weeks.

The deadlines to announce plans for a state-based healthcare exchange start as early as Friday. If state lawmakers don’t make proactive plans in the next few weeks, the federal government will act on Florida’s behalf.

Thurston’s Republican counterpart, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said that the state will begin to move soon, but the federal government has not provided enough guidance.

Continue reading "Democratic leader pressures Scott, Legislature to implement Obamacare" »

Predictable voting debacle? Lawmakers foresaw trouble in 2011, but their proposals were shot down

Many of the problems that surfaced during the 2012 election were predicted by Democratic legislators who tried to soften the impact of a controversial voting law with a slew of pro-voter amendments.

All the amendments to HB 1355 failed in the Republican-dominated House and Senate, though some of the same lawmakers who voted against the reforms now appear to be supporting election reform.

“It’s a little early to say what led to what led to those long lines,” said incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, adding that a committee needs to look at why Florida’s election was plagued by 6-hour lines and a last-in-the-nation presidential result.

Language from the Democrats’ amendments would have expanded the number of early voting sites, limited the length of constitutional amendments and given local election supervisors the option to extend early voting hours on their own if they felt it necessary.

Sec. of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s chief elections official, has said that the length of the ballot and the lack of sufficient early voting sites is what caused the chaos on Election Day.

Amendments and legislation that would have dealt specifically with those issues were rejected by Republican lawmakers, including some in South Florida districts that had lines of up to 9 hours.

One failed amendment would have mandated that local elections supervisors do everything in their power to ensure that no voter waited more than 25 minutes in line.

One after the other, the amendments failed. Now, lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed HB 1355, are trying to figure out what went so terribly wrong during Florida’s nationally-televised voting debacle.

Here are a few Democrat-backed amendments to HB 1355 that now seem prescient, 18 months after they were offered, and killed, on the floor of the House and Senate.

Continue reading "Predictable voting debacle? Lawmakers foresaw trouble in 2011, but their proposals were shot down" »

November 14, 2012

Scott not taking lead in elections reforms

 TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott heralded a meeting Wednesday between his Secretary of State and supervisors of elections as a game changer in getting to the bottom of Florida’s voting problems.

“Florida’s elections supervisors are experts in their fields and many of them demonstrated tremendous expertise in running their elections,” said a news release from his office. “We want to hear their ideas. Sec. (Ken) Detzner will meet today with the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections to get their feedback and insight.”

Scott has much to answer for in the days following Tuesday’s election. His state was last in getting called for Pres. Barack Obama, long lines plagued polling sites in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Lee counties, Palm Beach County was still counting absentees on Saturday, and now St. Lucie County’s elections supervisor has admitted to double counting votes that could muddy the outcome in the U.S. congressional race between Democrat Patrick Murphy and GOP Rep. Allen West.

But aside from finally acknowledging that there were major problems, Scott has offered few solutions or insights, essentially ceding the bully pulpit to potential rivals (hello Charlie CristPam Iorio) and Democratic leaning groups like the AFL-CIO, all of whom are pushing for major reforms.

Wednesday’s meeting between the supervisors and Detzner didn’t clarify what, if any, solutions Scott will provide.

Detzner met for 90 minutes in the law office of Ron Labasky, the lobbyist for the association. Other attendees were the association’s executive board members, who represent Clay, Escambia, Polk, Duval and Martin counties – all of which are rural are suburban counties with Republican majorities that lack the dense urban precincts of counties like Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Labasky said the group recommended two fixes: limiting the size of the ballot, so it doesn’t take as long for voters to fill out and consider, and giving supervisors greater flexibility in picking early voting sites. Right now, they are limited to confining early voting to governmental buildings.

The group didn’t recommend expanding the early voting period, Labasky said, which other groups have been pushing.

“We as an association don’t have any consensus on that issue,” Labasky said.

But even the two recommendations that were made Wednesday to Detzner are hardly news. The association has been pushing for greater leeway in choosing early voting sites for years. Many also complained about the length of the ballot. Democrats tried to amend a voting law passed last year by reflecting those concerns, but that was rejected by Republicans.

So what came of the meeting?

“I hope there’s progress in that we’re having this dialogue about early voting sites,” Labasky said. “But (Detzner’s) not indicating that he has his arms around it so that he has any ideas for us or a position that they may follow.”

After the meeting, which was closed to the public, Detzner was even more non-committal.

“It’s a little premature for me to say what we’re going to address,” Detzner said. “It’s important to step back and go into a fact finding mode and make the right kind of recommendations.”

He said he didn’t know when he would make those recommendations, which he added would be vetted by his boss, Scott.

“At the right time, I’ll share it with you and everyone else,” he said. 

Key West man's death linked to Obama's re-election

A Key West man who told his partner that "if Barack gets re-elected, I'm not going to be around" was found dead on Nov. 8, with the words "F--- Obama!" scrawled on his will and two empty prescription bottles nearby.

Henry Hamilton, 64, owner of Tropical Tan off Duval Street, was "very upset about the election results," his partner Michael Cossey told Police Officer Anna Dykes.

Police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said a cause of death is awaiting autopsy results from the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office but said, "There's absolutely no evidence of foul play."

According to Dykes' report, Cossey returned to the South Roosevelt Boulevard condo he shared with Hamilton after a late night of playing cards with friends and fell asleep on the couch around 6 a.m.

More here

A city-by-city elections analysis of how Obama and Romney did in Miami-Dade and Broward

What do Hialeah and Lighthouse Point have in common? Both went big for Mitt Romney.

The working class enclave in Miami-Dade and the well-heeled waterfront village in Broward each claimed the title of their county’s top Romney cities in last week’s election. The GOP nominee won Hialeah by about 5,100 votes and Lighthouse Point by a margin of 2,275 votes.

The Republican didn’t come close to carrying either county, of course, so South Florida’s “red” cities were very much in the minority for this presidential cycle. President Barack Obama’s top city in Miami-Dade was Miami, which he won by 122,000 votes. His best in Broward: Miramar, with a margin of about 30,000 votes.

Take a look at the tables and analysis by Douglas Hanks here.

November 13, 2012

Who really won Florida's Cuban vote? Analysts have conflicting results

A claim that nearly half of Cuban-American voters favored President Barack Obama continued under dispute Monday, with one side claiming it had new evidence that it was true and the other insisting it was false.

FIU professors Dario Moreno and Kevin Hill reported Monday their analysis of tallies from selected precincts in Miami-Dade County indicated GOP candidate Mitt Romney won up to 59 percent of the Cuban vote. University of California Riverside Professor Ben Bishin raises a similar argument in a blog post here.

Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International, however, reported Monday its own analysis of the county’s 48 largest Hispanic districts showed Obama won the Cuban vote, 51-49 percent over Romney.

The dispute involves competing visions of whether the Cuban-American vote has moved beyond its half-century-old support for the GOP. But while the two sides disagree on the numbers, it appears clear that Obama received more Cuban votes last week than he did in 2008.

Bendixen sparked the argument Friday when its initial analysis, based on exit polls of 3,800 Florida Hispanic voters and phone calls to 1,000 others who cast absentee ballots, showed Obama with 48 percent of the Cuban vote statewide — a historic high — and Romney at 52. Story by Juan Tamayo here.


Below is the Summary Memo of Moreno/Hill findings:


Continue reading "Who really won Florida's Cuban vote? Analysts have conflicting results" »