July 24, 2013

More fallout from voting rights act ruling: court dismisses challenge to FL's voter purge

A federal court in Tampa dismissed the claim by civil rights activists Wednesday challenging the controversial 2012 voter purge enacted by Gov. Rick Scott and the state's Division of Elections to rid the rolls of what they believed were scores of fraudulent voter registrations.

The action was challenged by the the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of Mi Familia Vota and two U.S. citizens and alleged it unconstitutionally targeted minority voters.

The court on Wednesday cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Shelby County v. Holder, which dismantled the part of the federal Voting Rights Act that required that state actions receive federal approval or preclearnace.

The ACLU of Florida director Howard Simon said the decision is further proof that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling "has taken away one of the primary tools we have used to challenge efforts to undermine democracy by suppressing minority votes.”

Here is the ACLU press release:

Continue reading "More fallout from voting rights act ruling: court dismisses challenge to FL's voter purge" »

June 25, 2013

Court blocks application of Voting Rights Act in Florida, unless Congress updates rules

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced unless Congress comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require federal monitoring of elections.

The justices said in 5-4 vote that the law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.

The court did not strike down the advance approval requirement of the law that has been used, mainly in the South, to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965.

Continue reading "Court blocks application of Voting Rights Act in Florida, unless Congress updates rules" »

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

**Update

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

June 12, 2013

Obama's bipartisan election commission to hold Miami meeting.

@MarcACaputo

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.

May 21, 2013

Gov signs elections law fix, reversing GOP changes and ending early primary

Gov. Rick Scott has finished the fix of the flawed election law that relegated Florida to a late-night joke in 2012 by signing an elections clean-up bill passed on the final day of the legislative session.

The measure, signed by Scott late Monday before he left for a trade mission to Chile, reverses several provisions implemented in 2011 by GOP lawmakers in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election.

Those changes, criticized by Democrats as an attempt to suppress votes for President Barack Obama, limited the early voting that the president’s campaign capitalized on in 2008. The 2011 law also prevented early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and prohibited voters, particularly students, from changing their voting address at the polls.

League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab hailed the reforms, saying “it will go a long way in repairing the damage done by the 2011 voter suppression bill.”

Continue reading "Gov signs elections law fix, reversing GOP changes and ending early primary" »

May 03, 2013

Marco Rubio gets Florida Legislature to eliminate early primary in 2016

@MarcACaputo and @MikeVanSickler

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded state lawmakers to make a last-minute change eliminating Florida’s early presidential primary – a race in which the Republican could be on the ballot.

Rubio’s main concern was shared by lawmakers and operatives from both parties: Ensuring that Florida’s 2016 primary vote counts. The measure, barely discussed, was tucked in an election-reform bill that passed the Legislature by wide margins Friday.

Right now, the Sunshine State’s early primary violates Democratic and Republican national party rules, which penalizes the state by severely devaluing the vote of its delegation to nominate each party’s presidential candidate.

Florida Republicans, for instance, would only have 12 delegates instead of 99 if the state kept its early primary in January or early February.

“We would go from being the third-largest delegation to being the smallest,” said Todd Reid, state director for Rubio.

Asked about Rubio’s potential bid for president in 2016, Reid said the changes had nothing to do with the senator’s political future and noted that Democrats support the changes as much, if not more, than Republicans.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio gets Florida Legislature to eliminate early primary in 2016" »

May 02, 2013

Miami-Dade's election chief might be only one targeted in future for "non-compliance."

@MarcACaputo

***Update: Full story is here

The bipartisan election bill passed the Florida House on the first day of the legislative session has yet to pass the Florida Legislature on the last day -- in great part due to a dispute over a plan to punish some election supervisors deemed "non-compliant."

The Senate inserted the language at the urging of Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a critic of the way Miami-Dade election supervisor Penelope Townsley handled her job last fall.

The provision allows a Secretary of State to impose penalties, including a partial loss of pay, for failing to follow election rules or competently manage an election. After three years of being deemed "noncompliant" an election supervisor can be recommended for removal from office by the governor.

But the House, and the state's election supervisors, don't like the language in part because the state can punish incompetent election supervisors now and nearly all election supervisors are elected and accountable to the voters.

So the House plans to strip out the measure Friday. But they might give the Senate a compromise proposal that would punish appointed election supervisors. There's only one of the 67 in the state: Townsley.

"We think it’s a little bit punitive. It’s one thing if you’re an appointed election supervisor. I think you may see some language in the House that reflects that," said House Speaker Will Weatherford.

"But as far as an elected supervisor and having the ability to punish them from the Secretary of State’s Office, I don’t think the Florida House likes that position," he said. "I would imagine that would probably come out of the bill."

Meantime, Diaz de la Portilla said he's working on proposing a Miami-Dade county charter change to make the post an elected position.

Weatherford's feeling about the language is shared by Senate President Don Gaetz. He predicted the bill would probably pass. So did Weatherford.

"On the very first day of session, we passed out a bipartisan elections bill," Weatherford said. "Our hope is that on the last day of session, we are able to pass out a bipartisan elections bill."


April 25, 2013

Miami-Dade prosecutor to Latvala: I'm 'disappointed' election bill's fraud-fighting was weakened

@MarcACaputo

A letter from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to Sen. Jack Latvala:

I know that you have great concern that our elections be free of any cloud of voter fraud. All of us in Miami-Dade County feel that the integrity of our election process is of paramount importance. The potential of absentee ballot fraud effecting an election has brought together the citizens of this community, as signified by the 23 recommendations of the Miami-Dade Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and our Supervisor of Elections. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed resolution R-118-13 urging the Florida Legislature to enact the recommendations of the Grand Jury report in an effort to combat absentee ballot fraud. Reinstating the previous statutory requirement that a witness signature appear on each absentee ballot will provide a means of ensuring that every absentee ballot cast is an honest vote.

Enacting the statutory changes recommended by the Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade BCC and the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections will allow your community and all of Florida to improve the public’s perception of how our elections are conducted. I am disappointed to note that the current version of the elections reform bill no longer contains a provision requiring a witness for an absentee voter’s signature. I strongly urge you to amend the bill to reinstate this provision to s. 101.65, Florida Statutes. Your vote for the addition of a witness signature to each absentee ballot will throw a chill into the hearts of those manipulators who feel that they, not the people, should decide who will sit in public office.

Please, join me and our entire Board of County Commissioners and our Supervisor of Elections in voting for clean local elections.

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