October 15, 2014

535,000 absentees already cast, Dems lagging but gaining


More than 535,000 absentee ballots have already been cast as of Tuesday night and, as in prior mid-term elections, Republicans have a solid lead in returns.

About 48 percent of all ballots cast so far have been by Republicans, 35 percent by Democrats and 17 percent by independent voters. That Republican lead of about 13 percentage points is certainly bigger than during the 2012 presidential elections, when Democratic turnout is generally higher, but it’s slightly less for this time in the election season for a mid term.

For years, Republicans have dominated at early voting by mail; Democrats by ballot casting in person during early voting, which starts Monday.

To be clear: we won’t know how people voted until Election Day. So the return numbers are more of a gauge of campaigns’ ground games. And both sides have something to brag about.

Last week, Republicans led by 18 percentage points in ballots cast compared to Democrats, who are catching up somewhat now that the big Democratic counties, which mailed absentees later than Republican counties, are starting to report.

As usual, Pinellas County remains the Oregon of Florida as the leader in mail-in voting: 45,000 ballots cast, of which 43 percent are from Republicans, 37 percent from Democrats and 16 percent from those with no party affiliation.

Because it’s a Republican County, it’s tempting to chalk this up as a win for Gov. Rick Scott. But this is Crist’s home county, which he won outright in a three-way U.S. Senate race that he lost overall in 2010.

In Pinellas’ next door neighbor, the much-larger and more-Democratic Hillsborough, Democratic mail-in ballots exceed Republican ones cast by just 1 percentage point. If Crist wins Hillsborough, as expected, and carries his home county of Pinellas, there’s a good chance he wins the Tampa Bay media market, one of the ends of the I-4 corridor that Scott won in 2010. (Crist also needs a chunk of Pasco)

Democrats have their biggest numbers posted in Orange County, the heart of the Orlando media market in the I-4 corridor, where they lead Republicans by 3 percentage points in returns. That also bodes well for Crist.

But, still, Republicans are dominating elsewhere. Of the top 15 counties for overall returns, Republicans have cast more ballots in nine: From Pinellas to Scott’s home counties of Lee and Collier. Republicans are posting solid leads in Volusia, Sarasota and Duval counties as well -- all keys for Scott.

Republicans are also winning the Miami-Dade ballot turnout. But the lead is just 2 percentage points in a county where they once blew Democrats away. This is something to watch.

Here’s a snapshot of the returns in big counties, sorted by party:

 Ballots cast  Party County % of total
      27,754 REP PIN 43%
      24,322 REP LEE 54%
      24,039 DEM PIN 37%
      12,065 DEM ORA 43%
      11,289 REP DAD 42%
      11,277 DEM LEE 25%
      11,091 REP ORA 40%
      11,037 REP CLL 62%
      10,834 REP DUV 55%
      10,761 DEM DAD 40%
      10,567 NPA PIN 16%
      10,529 DEM HIL 41%
      10,481 REP VOL 47%
      10,399 REP HIL 40%
       8,966 REP SAR 45%

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



September 20, 2014

Six weeks until Election Day, but first wave of Florida ballots already in the mail


 TALLAHASSEE — More than six weeks before Election Day, some voters are already casting ballots and helping elect Florida’s next governor.

County elections supervisors have until Saturday to mail hundreds of thousands of ballots to Floridians living overseas, many of whom are active-duty military personnel.

Those far-flung voters in Europe, Asia and elsewhere can’t see the constant barrage of TV ads in the race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist. But they represent the first wave of voters in a general election in which more than half of all participating voters likely will have voted by the time polls open Nov. 4.

Absentee or mail ballots can start going out Sept. 30, a full 10 days before the first of three live TV debates between Scott and Crist.

More here

September 17, 2014

Former Gov. Bob Martinez leads initiative to improve voter turnout; TaxWatch releases election guide

Bob Martinez, who was a civics teacher long before he became the state's 40th governor, wants to get at the heart of voter apathy in Florida.

Florida's recent primary turnout of 17.5 percent, the lowest in the past 16 years, dramatizes the need for a new initiative, said Martinez, who is heading the new TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship. 

"There is a lot of work to be done," said Martinez, who spoke at the press conference Wednesday sponsored by TaxWatch, which also announced the release of its 2014 election guide.

 "I don't know that we'll come up with a silver bullet but that's not the point," Martinez said. "The point is identifying why voter participation has declined."

Martinez acknowledged that negativity in campaigns is one deterrent, especially for the casual voter, but there are plenty of others, including a need for more engagement and the expectation that regular Joes can have an influence on government.

Continue reading "Former Gov. Bob Martinez leads initiative to improve voter turnout; TaxWatch releases election guide" »

April 19, 2014

Charlie Crist's major challenge: the apathetic voters of South Florida

@MarcACaputo & @stevebousquet

Sam Oser is 88, and he wants to live long enough to see a Democrat get elected governor of Florida again — even one who used to be a Republican.

So Oser is ready to embrace Charlie Crist, a career politician of changing stripes who’s a Democratic newcomer. No matter, says the West Palm Beach retiree: Democrats are doomed to irrelevance until they reclaim the Governor’s Mansion after a 16-year absence.

“We’re outnumbered,” Oser said of the Republicans’ dominance in Florida, sipping coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts. “The only way we can move ahead is to have a Democratic governor.”

The Bronx-born Oser, a World War II veteran who needs a walker to get around his Century Village retirement complex, is now a foot soldier in an increasingly diverse army of South Florida Democrats who view Republican Gov. Rick Scott as vulnerable and believe their best hope is Crist, his predecessor.

But for Crist to win, South Florida voters need to do something they haven’t done in years: vote in bigger numbers in a governor’s race.

About a third of Florida’s 4.6 million Democrats live in the three-county metropolis of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, a sprawling breadbasket of liberalism that proved critical in both of President Barack Obama’s Florida victories.

But off-year or midterm races for governor are a different story.

Year after year, voters in the Democratic region are among the state’s worst when it comes to showing up at the polls. It was most glaring in 2010 when Scott won office and statewide voter turnout was a meager 49 percent.

The turnout in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was worse: about 41, 40 and 47 percent, respectively. If those three counties had voted at the state average, Democrat Alex Sink likely would have beaten Scott by nearly 250,000 votes statewide. Instead, Sink lost by 61,550 votes.

Crist vows that won’t happen again.

more here

April 14, 2014

Democrats' voter-registration edge ain't all it's cracked up to be


In a state where a presidential election was famously decided by 537 ballots, Florida Democrats’ edge of 485,907 active voters over registered Republicans looks impressive at a glance.

But it isn’t.

In historical terms, it’s a bad sign for Democrats and Charlie Crist. And it’s great news for Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott.

The Democrats’ registration advantage hasn’t been this small since 2007. Perhaps more significantly, the gap is even smaller than it was in 2010 (591,809), when Republicans whipped Democrats at the ballot box.

You wouldn’t know the Democrats’ precarious position by looking at the public-opinion polls right now or by listening to Crist.

“I think we're gonna do it,” Crist told state House Democrats in Tallahassee on Thursday. “And I think they know it."

By “they,” Crist means Republicans. He used to be one of them (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat).

“They” don’t think they’re going to lose at all. There’s a reason for the Republican confidence: history.

Column here

October 25, 2013

Of 'fortress precincts' and Hispanic voters: FL. election turnout war off to early start


Florida Democrats celebrate this weekend at Disney World; Republicans might wind up knocking on your door.

The contrast between the two parties — one reveling in repeat election wins and favorable polls at its state conference; the other canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door statewide — illustrates Florida’s state of political play over the next election year.

“Florida Democrats are in Orlando this weekend to talk to themselves,” Tim Saler, a top RPOF political strategist.

“While their wheels are spinning at their convention,” he said, “we will have hundreds of precinct captains knocking on doors and talking to thousands of real voters about the issues that matter to them.”

For months, even as Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers remained poor, RPOF says it has been identifying and then personally contacting thousands of voters — especially the estimated 450,000 Republicans who vote in presidential elections but didn’t in 2010.

More than half live in conservative “fortress precincts” targeted by the RPOF.

RPOF also recently announced three new Hispanic-outreach coordinators. Democrats had already hired three of their own.

Democrats have a bigger edge with Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. And they’re trying to keep it that way.

Since May, the Florida Democratic Party says it has hosted about six monthly voter-registration efforts outside naturalization ceremonies in Central and South Florida, where they also have held an average of three monthly Hispanic community events.

Democrats have tailored some events toward Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Puerto Ricans in different areas of the state.

“We haven’t stopped our efforts since 2012,” said the Florida Democratic Party’s political director, Christian Ulvert, estimating the party has out-registered Republicans with Hispanics by a 3:1 ratio.

“We haven’t seen where the Republicans have been doing it in a coordinated way or effective way,” he said.

Full story here

August 08, 2013

Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive

The Dream Defenders, who are marking Day 24 of their Capitol sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, announced they are launching a massive drive to register 61,550 voters by 2014 -- the margin Scott won by in the 2010 election. 

"We intend to register the people that are forgotten - the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community and we will meet them where they are, in the classrooms, in the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop" said the Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew at a press conference Thursday.

He said the effort, which would enlist students on Florida campuses, would be geared toward issues, not candidates. "At the end of the day, we are not blue or red."

There's a need to "build power," Agnew said, so that "when the time comes again for us to move on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, like racial profiling, like Stand Your Ground, we don't have to sit on the floor again."

Continue reading "Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive" »

June 16, 2013

Online ballot fraud marks the ‘e-boletera era of Miami politics’

@MarcACaputo & @PatriciaMazzei

The election scandal dogging Congressman Joe Garcia’s campaign and two state House races makes it clear: Computer techies are supplementing old-school, block-walking ballot-brokers known as boleteras.

Over just a few days last July, at least two groups of schemers used computers traced to Miami, India and the United Kingdom to fraudulently request the ballots of 2,046 Miami-Dade voters.

Garcia said he knew nothing of the plot that recently implicated three former campaign workers, two employed in his congressional office. Investigators, meanwhile, have hit a dead end with a larger fraud involving two state House races.

A third incident cropped up Thursday in Miami’s mayoral race, but the case appears unrelated to last year’s fraud when two groups appeared to act separately from each other. They employed different tactics to target different types of voters, a University of Florida/Miami Herald analysis of election data indicates.

The ultimate goal was the same: get mail-in ballots into the hands of voters, a job that many boleteras once handled on the streets of Miami-Dade.

Now, it’s electronic.

“This is the e- boletera era of Miami politics,” said Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor who analyzed the voting data previously examined by The Miami Herald.

More here

June 13, 2013

Another Miami ballot-fraud scandal: Cops raid home of operative for Commissioner Francis Suarez mayoral campaign


Law enforcement officers investigating absentee ballot fraud raided the home early Thursday of Juan Pablo Baggini, the operations director for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign.

Suarez justed posted on Facebook that it was a misunderstanding:

"I was informed this morning that law enforcement officials went to the home of a worker from my ECO regarding approximately 20 absentee ballot request forms that were transmitted to the division of elections by electronic means. It should be emphasized that each and every one of the requests were voluntarily and duly signed by a registered voter. I have instructed my campaign to fully cooperate with law enforcement officials regarding this matter and I have all confidence that once the investigation is concluded the facts will reflect that no willful violations of the law occurred."

That might be true, that it wasn't a "willful" violation. But it's still a violation. Florida law says you can't request the absentee ballot of a non-immediate family member.

"The law is clear: You can't do it," said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based state election-law lawyer who has represented hundreds of political clients across the political spectrum.

Detectives searched Baggini’s Southwest Miami-Dade residence after the Miami-Dade Elections Department reported a series of online applications for 20 absentee ballots submitted last month. The requests were flagged as suspicious because they were generated from the same computer. The absentee ballots were not mailed out to the voters.

Investigators traced the computer’s internet protocol address to Baggini’s home.

Suarez, who has been on the dais for a Miami City Commission meeting Thursday, told the Miami Herald that he was notified about the raid early in the morning, and is confident that his campaign will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“We’re cooperating fully with any investigation that any agency wants to do into our campaign,’’ said Suarez, who is challenging Mayor Tomas Regalado in the November election. “We feel confident that once they investigate the circumstances fully, it will be apparent nothing was done to purposely violate the law. They will conclude that everything was done legally.’’

Suarez, whose campaign has been courting young professionals, said he hired Baggini to handle social media and media relations activities.

The campaign had held several events targeting younger voters, and has helped them sign up for absentee ballots.

More here