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

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

April 02, 2014

While Florida halts SAVE non-citizen voter purge, other states proceed ahead

Think the use of SAVE to search for non-citizen voters is dead? Perhaps in Florida, but not elsewhere.

While Florida recently scrapped using SAVE to search for non-citizen voters this year, Colorado and Maricopa County, Arizona continue to use that federal data to check voter registration eligibility -- and more states appear poised to join that list.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced last week that he would delay his second round of searching for non-citizen voters due to changes underway to the federal SAVE website that won’t be done before the 2014 election.

Detzner’s purge shortly before the presidential election in 2012 was criticized by election supervisors who said it was sloppy, rife with errors and poorly timed. The state started with a list of 180,000 potential noncitizens and later pared it to about 2,600 and then to 198. In the end, about 85 were removed.

In 2013, Detzner went on a statewide tour to visit county election officials and promise a much more effective process using the SAVE data. He dubbed the second round “Project Integrity.”

But in March, Detzner said as a result of DHS making changes to the SAVE website he had decided to delay the project. DHS finished the first phase of the website changes in February and is planning for the next phase -- but the website continues to remain operational. Unrelated to SAVE, this week a federal appeals court ruled that the 2012 purge was illegal because it was done too close to election day.

The Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler continues to use SAVE despite the website changes.  

Colorado signed an agreement to access SAVE in August 2012 and started using it for voter registration purposes shortly thereafter. A spokesman for the Secretary of State, Andrew Cole, told us in an email that their office hasn’t had any issues with the SAVE website “and do not plan on halting our checks as a result of the changes to the website.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many non-citizens have been removed from Colorado’s voter rolls as a result of SAVE. Since 2008, Colorado has removed 622 noncitizens from the voter rolls -- but that includes a few years before the state started using SAVE for that purpose, Gessler spokesman Richard Coolidge said. At least 55 voters identified through SAVE searches sent letters back to the state asking that they be removed from the voter rolls. (Gessler has faced heat for the purge.)

In 2005, Maricopa County in Arizona became the first such agency to access SAVE for voter registration purposes, DHS previously told PolitiFact.

“We have not halted the use of the SAVE program and the DHS website continually goes through updates but it has never affected our ability to check citizenship status for prospective voters in Maricopa County,” Jasper Altaha, who works for the Maricopa County Elections Department said in an email. “We only use the SAVE program on the front end when a voter first registers to vote; we don’t use the SAVE program to remove voters from the voter rolls.”

Virginia and North Carolina only recently gained access to SAVE and haven’t started using it yet for voter registration while Iowa is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.


February 07, 2014

Crist says he'll meet with UF students over state's rejection of campus center as early voting site

Criticizing the state's decision to block the University of Florida's student union as an early voting site, Charlie Crist posted a Facebook notice Friday stating he'll meet with students and voters at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday at Turlington Plaza to discuss the issue. 

The posting follows a tweet from the Democratic candidate at 6:15 p.m. Thursday:  "This is an outrage," Crist tweeted. "Stay tuned on how we can protest Rick Scott's awful insult to every student & voter in the state."

To address complaints of long waits at polling sites in 2012 that attracted national attention, legislators last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers.

In response to a request by the city of Gainesville to use the Reitz Union for early voting in March's municipal elections, Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, wrote in an advisory opinion that "the terms 'convention center' and 'government-owned community center' cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union."

Crist joins the growing number of critics blasting the state's decision, including the League of Women Voters, election supervisors and Democratic legislators.

In a statement Friday, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) said  “Governor Scott and state elections officials seem once again to be trying to suppress the vote of university students and other Floridians. I urge him to stop laying roadblocks to voting. The governor should do more to encourage, not discourage, voting among young people who are interested and engaged citizens.”

Continue reading "Crist says he'll meet with UF students over state's rejection of campus center as early voting site" »

December 03, 2013

Battle between Pinellas elex chief and governor, Part 2


Pinellas County’s chief elections official firmly put Gov. Rick Scott on notice Monday: She will refuse his administration’s order and will continue to urge voters to drop off their absentee ballots at satellite locations.

Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said her 6-year-old system of drop-off sites is “in full compliance with the law” and the state has known about them because they are included in plans she sends to the state to get federal voter education money.

“I plan to continue using them, including in the impending special primary election,” Clark told Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Scott’s chief elections adviser.

Detzner last week issued a surprise directive in which he ordered elections officials not to “solicit return” of absentee ballots at locations other than an elections office or branch, because it’s not allowed by law. He said he acted after questions from supervisors Brian Corley in Pasco County and Chris Chambless in Clay County.

In Clark’s response, she voiced disappointment that Detzner never sought the opinions of the 67 county supervisors of election before he issued his Nov. 25 directive.

Clark said her drop-off sites are staffed by her deputies, who by law have the same power as a supervisor and who keep watch over locked ballot boxes with numbered seals. The boxes are transported nightly to her headquarters to be canvassed, she said.

“I am confident that the drop-off locations maintained throughout Pinellas County are secure,” Clark wrote.

The state had no immediate response to Clark’s letter. Story 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

September 10, 2013

Greer remained on voter roll six months after plea

Gov. Rick Scott's administration will soon launch a new statewide hunt for suspected non-citizens on the voter roll, a process that last year led to lawsuits and lots of frustration in county elections offices because of a flawed "purge list." But if the state wants a clean roll, it might find out why it takes so long for a voter to be removed after a felony conviction.

Case in point: Jim Greer, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida who pleaded guilty last Feb. 11 to five counts of grand theft and money laundering, but was still listed as a registered voter until last week, when we started asking questions. Now there was no election for Greer to vote in, and no chance of him obtaining a ballot at the Gulf Forestry Camp near Port St. Joe, where he's serving an 18-month sentence. The question is the reliability of the state voter database.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said he was still waiting for the state Division of Elections to send the paperwork necessary to initiate removal, including a certified copy of Greer's guilty plea and other documents.

"Good question," Ertel said when we asked him why Greer was still on the roll more than six months after he pleaded guilty. "We have flagged his record and are beginning the process of removal." Greer is now listed as "inactive" on the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS), the state voter database.

In an earlier email, Ertel said: "Our office has yet to receive the information packet from the Department of State concerning Greer’s conviction. We are well aware of his conviction, and have been on the lookout for the packet from the state."

Ertel is removing Greer's name from the roll based on a provision in law that allows his office to remove a voter based on information from a source other than the state. "To be clear, Jim Greer will not be casting a ballot in any election anytime soon," Ertel said.

-- Steve Bousquet