November 27, 2012

Congressional Dems want feds to review Fla. voting laws

Six Democratic members of Congress from Florida want the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold a hearing on changes to state election laws enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

One of those changes -- a reduction in early voting days from 14 to eight -- is cited as the cause of extremely long lines at early voting sites, especially in Miami-Dade. But President Barack Obama won Florida for a second time, in part due to a stronger showing in Dade this time in comparison to 2008.

In their letter, the members of Congress cite recent statements by former Gov. Charlie Crist (an ex-Republican who may run for governor as a Democrat) and former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer (awaiting trial on felony charges) that the reason for the voting law changes was to "intentionally suppress Democratic turnout." That assertion is based on a recent article in The Palm Beach Post, which also quoted a Republican campaign consultant, Wayne Bertsch, as saying that a surge in early voting turnout in 2008 "sent a chill down our spines" at the Republican Party of Florida.

"The law limited access to the polls for minorities, seniors and college students," the members of Congress wrote. "We are extremely concerned over the integrity of this law and the justification for its implementation. Therefore, we believe that a hearing must be held as soon as possible."

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston; Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; and Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

-- 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.

November 15, 2012

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. 

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" »

November 12, 2012

Sizing up the pollsters: Who got it right and who didn't in prez race

Nate Silver, the wiz-kid behind the New York Times "Five Thirty Eight" blog, not only precisely called the outcome of the presidential race, he statistically nailed the performance of every state.

He has now analyzed the pollsters with a no-holds-barred accounting of their biases and average errors. For the record, the Herald/Times' pollster, Mason Dixon, didn't fare too well. According to Silver, it had a 5.4 percentage point average error rate in the eight statewide polls it conducted and it favored Republicans by a 2.2 percentage point margin. (We took a look at that here.) 

"Polls by American Research Group and Mason-Dixon also largely missed the mark. Mason-Dixon might be given a pass since it has a decent track record over the longer term, while American Research Group has long been unreliable,'' Silver wrote.

The winner, with the most accuracy measure, was TIPP, a national tracking pollster for Investors’ Business Daily, followed by -- no surprise -- Google Consumer Surveys. Because most polling firms underestimated Mr. Obama’s performance, Silver wrote, polls like TIPP's that had what had seemed to be Democratic-leaning results had the best final outcome.

November 10, 2012

Election fall-out helped Miami's Jose Oliva secure speakership -- for 2018

Jose OlivaMiami Rep. Jose Oliva has secured enough Republican votes in his class to be designated House speaker in 2018-20.

Six years is a long time to wait but, in the just-because world of legislative politics, traditions die hard. So it was no surprise that, despite the election-year upset of incoming House speaker Chris Dorworth, the tradition of collecting pledges for the two-year post continued unabated this week.

By Friday, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, had quickly won the pledges to replace Dorworth after Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, dropped out. Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, remained the GOP choice for 2016-18.

But the post-election day scramble also allowed Oliva, the CEO of Oliva Cigar Company who has been campaigning for the post since he was elected in a special election in June 2011, to secure enough support from his colleagues to become speaker in 2018-20.

Like Miami's most recent House Speaker Marco Rubio, Oliva is a "red shirt" freshman, having moved into office on a special election. He has a head start on the job but officially becomes part of the class elected in the subsequent election, those elected on Tuesday who are term-limited out of office in 2020.

Oliva had faced the prospect of being challenged for the speakership by two former legislators, Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg and Alex Diaz de la Portilla of Miami. Both lost on Tuesday as the wave of Obama supporters crushed Republicans in a handful of newly-drawn House districts.

Now, Oliva's supporters tell us, he has secured the pledges free and clear. Dorworth even acknowledged it in his fairwell note to colleagues on Friday.

The line-up of Republican speakers for the Florida House looks this way: Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, 2012-14; Crisafulli, 2014-16; Corcoran, 2016-18; Oliva, 2018-20. That is, of course, another election day doesn't get in the way.

November 09, 2012

Dorworth falls further behind Clelland, now 123 votes short, recount set for Sunday

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel released the following late Thursday night. After a review of provisional ballots Rep. Chris Dorworth has lost even more of his narrow margin against Democratic challenger Mike Clelland, who now has a net 123 vote lead.

From Ertel:

The canvassing board has just completed canvassing of all of Seminole County’s provisional ballots.  The updated numbers are here:

In short, of the provisional ballots which were deemed eligible, Clelland received an additional 228 votes and Dorworth received an additional 142 votes.  The previous lead of 37 was increased to 123.  It is now Clelland-36,977, Dorworth-36,854.

Next step: we have submitted the results to the Florida Department of State.  In accordance with the parameters set by Florida law, I assume the Secretary of State will order a recount of this race.  We have already scheduled a canvassing board meeting for Sunday at 1 p.m. for the conduct of the recount.


November 07, 2012

Democrats reflect on Florida successes: seeds of rebuilding effort

Scott Randolph, a former state representative and Orange County Democratic chairman, stood before a crowd of 200 supporters Tuesday night and declared they had changed the swing in the crucial swing state county.

The central Florida county is the buckle in the I-4 corridor’s belt and had been a long-time Republican stronghold, but on Tuesday it was clear that tradition had ended. “We are the face of the I-4 corridor and we have won,’’ Randolph said, noting that Democrats not only won their state legislative seats but all important countywide seats.

Randolph, a former legislator who retired because of term limits, was elected Orange County tax collector on Tuesday night when he became a last-minute replacement candidate for the incumbent who died, Earl K. Wood. He remains a candidate for state Democratic Party chairman.

"This election is a referendum on a state legislature that is far out of step with the public,'' Randolph said. He blames "gerrymandered districts" and a Republican majority that "puts ideology before policy."

Continue reading "Democrats reflect on Florida successes: seeds of rebuilding effort" »

Newbie Jose Javier Rodriguez poised to defeat Alex Diaz de la Portilla

Political newcomer Jose Javier Rodriguez made a strong showing Tuesday against one of Miami-Dade’s most well-known political figures for a seat in the Florida Legislature.

With some polls open late into the night, Rodriguez had a comfortable lead over veteran Republican lawmaker Alex Diaz de la Portilla in the hard-fought battle for state House District 112.

“We were talking to voters everyday,” Rodriguez said. “We really ran a really grassroots campaign. It was never about my opponent. It was never about the partisan battle lines in Tallahassee either.”

In other races, South Floridians opted to send familiar faces back to Tallahassee.

Voters favored incumbent Gwen Margolis over newcomer John Couriel in the closely watched race for Senate District 35.

More on South Florida's other state House and Senate races here.