October 01, 2014

Floridians in 2012 waited longer to cast ballots than voters in any other state


Voters in Florida waited far longer than those in other states to cast their votes in the 2012 election, hampered by long ballots and cutbacks in early voting options, according to a new report by congressional auditors.

Voters in the state stood in line more than 34 minutes on average, significantly longer than ballot-casters did in any other state reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog.

The shortest waits? Alaska, at just 1.4 minutes.

Three others states had wait times about 25 or more minutes: Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. But most of the others fell somewhere between five minutes and 20 minutes, on average.

In Florida, the GAO estimated, 16 percent of voters waited 61 minutes or more to cast their ballots — tops among the states surveyed.

“People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement.

More here



June 27, 2013

NAACP vows decisive action in wake of voting rights ruling

Florida NAACP leaders voiced disappointment Thursday with the Supreme Court decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and they promised to hold Gov. Rick Scott, state legislators and members of Congress accountable for any new changes in state voting laws.

"They can't be left alone without our input," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Chapters, in a conference call with reporters. The right to vote "impacts everything we do. It really guides our whole life."

Without federal oversight of election procedures in Florida, she said, it's more important than ever for groups such as the NAACP to keep elected officials under a microscope.

Tuesday's 5-4 decision invalidated the decades-old coverage formula used to ensure that any changes in voting procedures do not discriminate against minorities in five Florida counties: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry. NAACP special counsel David Honig said the fact that there were "eight-hour" waits to vote at some Miami-Dade precincts last fall underscores the need for federal oversight of Florida elections.

"Someone made the deliberate decision not to have enough voting machines. That's a tactic that dates back to the early 1900s," Honig said. He also cited the problem-plagued efforts by Scott and other Florida officials to "purge" the Florida voting rolls of non-citizens in 2012.

The civil rights' activists comments came on the eve of a hearing in Miami Friday by President barack Obama's Commission on Election Administration. Among the scheduled witnesses at the hearing will be representatives of The Advancement Project, a voting rights group that produced a study showing that black and Hispanic voters faced longer wait times at the polls in Florida than white voters did.

The study, by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith and colleague Michael Herron, examined data from 5,196 of the approximately 6,100 precincts that Florida used in the November 2012 general election. The study also found that minority voters were more likely to cast provisional ballots than whites. The Advancement Project's study can be found here.

After Tuesday's decision, Scott told reporters: "I want to make sure there's no racial discrimination in any of our elections."

-- Steve Bousquet

June 12, 2013

Obama's bipartisan election commission to hold Miami meeting.


The bipartisan election-reform commission established by President Obama will meet for a day in Miami -- the focal point for the state's most-recent election meltdown.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is scheduled to meet all day Friday, June 28 at the University of Miami to take testimony and public comments from local, county and state election officials and citizens, a notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register said.

"The [commission] was established to identify best practices and make recommendations to the President on the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay," the notice said, "and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots."

 Downtown Miami is a fitting site to discuss election problems. Some voters waited between five and eight hours to cast ballots, due partly to an unusually long ballot, a shortened early voting period and ill-prepared precincts (more background here).

But problems extended throughout Miami-Dade and into other large urban counties.

The face of the voting troubles: Desiline Victor, a North Miami woman who waited hours to vote despite her age of 102. She was featured in Obama's State of the Union Speech, though a bill to be named in her honor died in the state Legislature.

Though the president has pushed for more transparent elections and more public input, not everyone can just show up at the meeting at month's end. According to the Federal Register, citizens wishing to attend have to register by submitting their full name, organization and email address.

Those wishing to attend the meeting are encouraged to contact the commission (more information here) to ensure the meeting is held in a place that can accommodate all attendees.

April 26, 2013

Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case

 While the State Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, last month, she can't pass her attorney's fees to the complainant, the panel decided on Friday.
    On March 13th, the Commission found no probable cause to believe that Nuñez had misused her position to mail a legislatively-funded newsletter to voters who were not her constituents in newly established District 119, in apparent violation of House policy, before the 2012 election Aug. 14th.
    But the Ethics Commission followed a recommendation by staff to reject a petition by Nuñez's attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas, to dismiss attorney's fees and costs the representative incurred in the case.

Continue reading "Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case" »

April 22, 2013

Voting groups blast Senate bill's 'assistance' provision

Local and national voting rights groups voiced opposition Monday to an elections bill that's awaiting a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. The groups zeroed in on a provision in the bill (HB 7013) that changes the law for voters who need assistance at the polls. Under the change, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a person seeking to assist a voter at the polls must already know the person, and no one may assist more than 10 voters in an election.

"These restrictions on assistors will make it harder to vote, particularly for many of Florida's Latino and Hispanic residents," the groups said in advance of a conference call with Florida reporters.  

The organizations included Florida New Majority, the Advancement Project, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Florida Immigrant Coalition and Florida Conference of the NAACP. They said the Senate bill
would disenfranchise voters who can't read English. Advocates cited Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provides that a person who needs assistance as a result of blindness, disability, or the inability to read or write can receive assistance "from the person of his or her choice," provided it's not an agent or officer of
the voter’s employer or union.

The House has not yet voted on the controversial provision limiting voter assistance at the polls. House
Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Monday that House leaders have concerns about various provisions of the Senate bill, but he did not cite specifics.

Latvala, in Senate floor debate last week, said the ability of people to help voters cast ballots is being abused in Florida. "It's become kind of a political tool in many areas to have folks who stay at precincts all day offering their services to go in and help people vote, and in many cases in an intimidating fashion," Latvala said.

Gihan Perera of Florida New Majority called Latvala's description "false." People who are actively trying to influence people's vote choices must stay a safe distance from the polling precinct, Perera said.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who unsuccessfully sought to remove the provision from the Senate bill, said one reason for historically long lines at the polls in Miami-Dade last fall was that too few volunteers were available to assist Haitian voters who only speak Creole.

-- Steve Bousquet

April 16, 2013

Florida Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting


Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter who became a symbol of Florida’s elections woes, could again find it tough to cast a ballot now that the Republican-controlled state Senate voted Tuesday to keep a crack down on foreign-language interpreters at the polls.

The Senate maintained the last-minute measure on what appeared to be a party-line voice vote while debating a bill designed to reverse the effects of an election law that helped create long lines and suppress the vote in 2012.

On Election Day at Victor’s polling station, there weren’t enough interpreters for the Creole-speaking native of Haiti and hundreds like her. Turnout was heavy. And lines lasted for hours — partly due to a slew of proposed state Constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

“My mom is a victim of this problem, if they’re going to change something it should be to make voting easier. Just make it easy,” said Victor’s godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, whom she raised as her own child.

Continue reading "Florida Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting" »

Update: Voters groups say Senate elections bill becoming elections hurdle bill

The long-awaited elections reform bill (SB 600) comes before the Florida Senate today and a recent amendment has some voters groups clamoring that it has gradually become an election hurdles bill.

A last minute amendment added to the measure by chief sponsor, Senate Ethics and Elections chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would impose new restrictions on volunteers who assist non-English speaking voters on Election Day. An effort to remove the language was rejected by the full Senate on a voice vote.

The change, conceived and proposed by former Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas, would ban any volunteer from helping a voter in the voting area who doesn’t read or speak English unless that person is known to the voter prior to Election Day and limits the volunteer from helping no more than 10 voters. It was added to the bill at the last committee on a vote along party lines. 

“Why add this change at the last minute?,’’ asked Gihan Perera, executive director of the Florida New Majority in an email to supporters on Monday. “Perhaps it’s because in 2012, local community residents decided to pitch in to help election officials in North Miami and other heavy immigrant areas in servicing hundreds of people who needed basic language assistance in casting their ballot.”

Continue reading "Update: Voters groups say Senate elections bill becoming elections hurdle bill " »

April 02, 2013

Latvala tees off on Sen. Chris Smith in elections-bill fight

A series of partisan clashes on an early voting bill Tuesday brought a stern lecture from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the point man on the legislation, who said he was "taking it a little bit personal." He aimed a torrent of criticism at Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, leader of the Senate's 14 Democrats, who tried repeatedly to rework the bill to Democrats' liking.

Latvala's bill seeks to address the chaos and long lines at the polls last fall, but Democrats say it doesn't go far enough. Case in point: The bill (SB 600) mandates at least eight days of early voting for eight hours every day. Election supervisors can expand that to 14 days for 12 hours a day, including
the Sunday before the election, but it's optional, as supervisors wanted, and not

Smith offered a batch of amendments that failed on 5-3 votes in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, including allowing early voting at any precinct and mandatory 14 days of early voting including the Sunday before the election. Smith said the bill gives county elections officials too much discretion so that it will lead to varying early voting schedules. "It's almost comical," Smith said.

Latvala said the Democrats' strategy was to "keep this issue in the news and ride this horse until it dies." Then, using the sponsor's prerogative of having the last word, Latvala noted that every House Democrat supported that chamber's elections bil, and said Smith's partisanship reminds
him that the Senate used to be a more bipartisan place. 

"I have always tried to exemplify that the policies, and the people of Florida getting a good
product done, are more important than partisan advantages," said Latvala, who has often bucked Senate Republicans on issues. "We shouldn't be like Washington here in Tallahassee."

A bipartisan vote on an election reform bill would be a strategic advantage for Republicans if the new changes trigger new litigation, but Senate Democrats appear to be digging in to oppose it.

On the bill, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux warned that overseas military voters in the Panhandle could be disenfranchised by a new requirement that an absentee ballot must be witnessed by another, a change proposed by a Miami-Dade grand jury that investigated absentee ballot fraud. "This is going to be, in my opinion, a means to discount more military ballots. I'm worried about that," Lux said.

Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters both said they liked the bill overall, though
the LWV raised fears over the witness requirement.

-- Steve Bousquet 

March 27, 2013

Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics

Digital Domain debacle, take two.

The former CEO of Digital Domain is hitting back with an alternative script after an Inspector General report slammed the process that helped the now-defunct Port St. Lucie film studio get $20 million in taxpayer grants. 

John Textor said the claim by Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida that the Digital Domain deal was some kind of widely discredited proposal that had been blacklisted by Enterprise Florida, only to be slipped into the budget later by aggressive lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist—is complete fiction.

In fact, Textor said, Enterprise Florida actually recommended that Florida taxpayers chip in about $11.4 million to help Digital Domain bring jobs to the state.

An email Textor provided to the Herald/Times shows that an Enterprise Florida representative wrote Textor on March 18, 2009, saying that the organization would “present to [the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development] relative to a one-time award of $6.1 million” and other awards for a “total potential FL economic incentive package” of $11.4 million. The email, not included in the IG report, said Digital Domain would be required to create 300 jobs. 

EFI never went through with a recommendation to OTTED (which is required for  economic incentives grants to be awarded), but Textor has a very different explanation for why that did not happen.

According to Enterprise Florida’s account, the organization refused to support funding because Digital Domain’s finances were “extremely weak” and its business model was suspect.  Textor has a different story, and questions Enterprise Florida’s credibility by pointing out that the organization believed Digital Domain’s business plan was strong enough to receive an $11.4 million incentives package. 

Textor believes that he and others are being thrown under the bus as a way for Gov. Rick Scott to attack the Crist administration, which was in charge when Digital Domain received funding by getting special language tacked onto the state's budget.

Continue reading "Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics" »

March 18, 2013

Partisan divisions return as Senate panel OKs voting bill

It was bound to end sooner or later, and it did on Monday.

The bipartisan cooperation that marked early work on an elections bill vanished as Democrats on the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee repeatedly forced roll-call votes on amendments the Republican majority opposed.

The GOP prevailed on a series of 8-5 votes and on final passage of the bill (SB 600), sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the panel's chairman. A visibly peeved Latvala at one point said he would consider giving way on a point the Democrats wanted, "but not now," he said, and he quickly left the hearing without speaking to reporters.

With other Republicans rallying around Latvala, the GOP-crafted bill has two major provisions that worry election supervisors: a requirement that anyone voting absentee must have an adult witness their signature, and a requirement that anyone who wants an absentee ballot mailed to an address other than their voting address must fill out an affidavit.

"This is going to impact seniors, students and our military voters," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. He predicted that the witness requirement would result in a surge of uncounted absentees because voters would not follow the new step.

But most of the debate focused on Democratic maneuvering on changes Republlicans oppose.

Democrats tried to mandate 14 days of early voting at 12 hours a day, including the "Souls to the Polls" Sunday immediately before the election. That failed, and the bill calls for a minimum of eight days of early
voting at eight hours a day. Election supervisors can provide up to 14 days at 12 hours a day, but, as they requested, it's at their discretion and not mandatory.

Democrats tried to add as early voting sites "any suitable location," and that failed too. Republicans have agreed to expand early voting sites to include "fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center" to the list of early voting sites in the future.

Democrats tried to repeal a provision in law that requires out-of-county voters to cast provisional ballots on Election Day. "It slowed the process down. That was one of the bad things in House Bill 1355," said Sen.
Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, referring to the notorious 2011 bill widely blamed for the long lines at the polls last fall.

Latvala said that two-thirds of the counties reported their provisional ballot totals, which amounted to about 9,000 statewide, including most of the state's largest counties. "That, to me, is not a big problem," Latvala said. "That, to me, is not too much work to ensure that people are not voting twice."

-- Steve Bousquet