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121 posts from January 2007

January 24, 2007

There's more than bad ballot design, study finds

Democrat Christine Jennings is touting results of an independent study that cites new evidence of machine failure in Sarasota County and concludes that misleading ballot design, voter turnoff and other theories do not account for the "extraordinarily high undervote rate" in the county.

The authors of the report, who said they performed a statistical analysis of electronic ballot and "event log data" from the November election, said they were "unable to propose a convincing mechanism based on voter, machine or ballot characteristics that completely explains the phenomenon.

"In a nutshell," wrote authors David Dill and Walter Mebane, "the excessive CD-13 undervote rate in Sarasota County is not yet well-understood and will not be understood without further investigation."

Dill is a professor at Stanford University's Department of Computer Science; Mebane is a professor at Cornell University's Department of Government.

Jennings is suing in appeals court for the right to examine the secret computer source code used in the voting machines. She lost the election by fewer than 400 votes, but more than 18,000 voters failed to cast ballots in the congressional race.

"Despite Florida election officials repeatedly denying that there were problems, there are many  unanswered questions about what went wrong with Sarasota's electronic voting machines," Jennings said. "And with the first presidential primaries only 12 months away and millions of Americans using similar marchines, this is a test case for the entire nation."

Ross and Brown resign posts

Two days after Rep. Don Brown, a DeFuniak Springs Republican, and Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, cast the lone no votes on the massive insurance bill, the two lawmakers have "offered their resignations" as council chairmen, a statement from the office of House Speaker Marco Rubio says.

"Their resignations have been accepted. I respect their decisions and look forward to working with them in their new roles,'' said Rubio in a statement. The resignations have prompted a flurry of moves by Rubio. Brown is out as chairman of the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council and will take over as chairman of the Insurance Committee. Rep. Ron Reagan, who had been insurance committee chairman, will take Brown's post as council chairman and will also replace him on the Rules and Calendar Council.

Ross will demoted to vice-chairman on the Safety and Security Council, a job he just got when Rep. Holly Benson left her job in the Legislature to work for the administration of Gov. Charlie Crist.

Charlie talks about chipped teeth and unpaid bets

Gov. Charlie Crist told members of the Capital City Tiger Bay Club on Wednesday that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland still hasn't paid off his bet with Crist over whether the University of Florida or Ohio State University would win the BCS Championship Game. Stricklind pledged Buckeye chocolate candies and Ohio wine and to fly the state of Florida flag over the governor's mansion.

"They of course lost. And I still don't have the buckeyes, I still don't have the Ohio wine I'm not sure I want, and I don't know if he has flown the flag of Florida over the governor's mansion of Ohio yet. But I'm sure that he has. I'm sure he's a man of his word,'' said Crist.

During his hour-long visit with club members at the Silver Slipper Restaurant in north Tallahassee, Crist also talked about the special session on insurance, the need to lower property taxes, as well as a personal story about the need to help the uninsured in Florida.

Crist revealed that three weeks ago he had chipped his tooth and discovered that in moving from the attorney general's office to the governor's office he no dental coverage. Crist then checked how much it would be to pay the out-of-pocket cost to fix his tooth: "It was over $800 to put some putty on top of one tooth. So, I feel your pain. I understand the problem and I think we need to provide more coverage to more Floridians."

Hayden Dempsey joins McCain

Fresh off his visit to Miami, Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain announced today that Hayden Dempsey will serve as Florida co-chairman of Lawyers for McCain.

Dempsey was lead counsel for Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign and served as deputy general counsel for former Gov. Jeb Bush. Most recently, he represented newly elected U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, whose narrow margin of victory has been disputed by Democratic rival Christine Jennings. Dempsey also serves on the Federal Nominating Commission in Florida.

"High-level Republicans are being courted, and the ones who want experience and someone who commands respect are lining up with McCain," said Republican lobbyist Ana Navarro, a self-described "McCainiac."

Navarro attended the Arizona's senator's private meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables on Saturday with a number of potential donors and supporters, including U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Navarro, whose boyfriend is Biltmore owner Gene Prescott, noted that Democratic presidential contender John Edwards did his post-State of the Union interviews last night from the hotel and had breakfast there this morning.

"The only presidential candidate who has not come through the hotel is Tom Tancredo, and frankly I don't want him," said Navarro, who is Cuban-American, referring to the anti-immigration Colorado congressman. "The hotel has gone from being a Clinton hangout to bi-partisan and bi-cultural."


Katherine Harris in the House

Former Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Sarasota, whose efforts to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson turned her (once more) into a political punch line and embarassed the Republican party, made a guest appearance Tuesday on the House floor for President Bush's State of the Union address.

The Sarasota Republican hugged former colleagues and watched Bush's speech amid a coterie of Florida Republicans.

She wasn't the only former member of the House from Florida to make the rounds. Also spotted: former Pensacola Rep. Joe Scarborough, who turned down pleas of fellow Republicans to jump into the Senate race.

Harris invited new Sarasota Rep. Vern Buchanan over to her Washington home for dinner. He declined, saying he was off to dinner with Sen. Mel Martinez and his wife, Kitty.

"Kiss My A**" snarled in Miami Rep. spat

The scene: A committee room late at night on day 5 (Saturday) of the special session on insurance.

The players: South Miami Rep. Julio Robaina and Miami Rep. David Rivera, both Republicans.

The fact they agree on most: They don’t like each other very much.

Robaina is upset. For the second year in a row, he’s watching his push to require financial disclosures for national parent companies of Florida subsidiaries (aka “pup companies”) die.

''I'm proud of the House's work on this bill, but it's bad public policy'' says Robaina. He points out that Gov. Charlie Crist made this a campaign issue. Says Rep. Don Brown, a DeFuniak Springs Republican – one of only two members to vote against the bill Monday -- ``The governor doesn't vote on this conference.''

To prevent a public blowup, about a dozen lawmakers huddle in a corner where Robaina speaks in Spanish and English to Rivera. “David, do you support the governor?” Robaina asks according to a number of lawmakers. “Do you support the people of Florida?”

Rivera, initially refusing to look at Robaina, finally stares at him and lets it fly: “Kiss my a**, Julio,” a number of lawmakers say. Some say Robaina responded in turn. Smiling when asked about the incident later, neither would confirm nor deny what was said.

“Usually, when you say something like that, someone says it right back,” Rivera later said, explaining he was annoyed that Robaina publicly questioned the agreement struck with the Senate by Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, who’s scheduled to be House Speaker after Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami.

“I acknowledge I firmly admonished him for publicly disagreeing with Chairman Sansom,” Rivera said.

Said Robaina: “We're going to leave it at this: It's called Miami guys having a spat. There is no issue. We've been battling for a long time. But there is no war. There will be a battle over the pup companies. Make no mistake about that. I’m ready to file a bill as soon as I can.”

January 23, 2007

Villalobos skips meeting, stumps for Carlos

Miami Sen. Alex Villalobos today missed the Judiciary Committee he chairs in Tallahassee to stay home and work the polls to pay back the man who helped keep him in office: Miami-Dade's new strong Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

Alvarez backed Villalobos in the vicious state Senate race that he narrowly survived this fall, when four of Villalobos' fellow senators and loyalists of Gov. Jeb Bush tried to unseat him. More here on the effort (as well as other Miami-Dade House elections shenanigans). Alvarez, whose approval ratings were purportedly higher than Bush's, cut ads for Villalobos that were considered central to his campaign: Download Race.doc

The grassroots campaign not only paid for Villalobos, but also for Alvarez's sister, Sonia Castro, who earned $14,000 in consulting fees, according to the state's elections website. Alvarez, incidentally, chatted today by phone with Gov. Charlie Crist who offered his "full support," the mayor and a Crist aide said.

Paper trail dominates elections public hearing

The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee spent two and a half hours Tuesday rehashing the 2006 election, and to no one's surprise the top issue was touchscreen voting machines and the ongoing controversy surrounding the disputed Congressional race in Sarasota.

Several speakers urged the Legislature to require that voting systems in Florida have a way to track votes, and that there be mandatory audits of all voting systems. Two North Florida men, both of whom said they were in the computer business, even went further, saying that Florida should return to a paper ballot because there was no way to completely secure electronic voting machines from tampering.

Much of the discussion was sparked by the fact that roughly 18,000 voters in Sarasota County did not cast a vote in the heated race between Christine Jennings and Vern Buchanan, which Buchanan won by 369 votes. Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent was on hand for the hearing but did not testify. Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, spent a half hour pleading with lawmakers about what happened there and called it a "travesty of democracy."

Kurt Browning, the new Secretary of State,  also spoke and said he is hopeful that the three companies that make the touchscreen machines used in Florida will soon submit equipment that could be used to create a "voter verified audit trail." Browning, who prefers touchscreen machines but said he has an "open mind" about creating a paper trail, said he plans to soon submit recommendations to the Legislature on the best way to align the state laws on voting machines while also moving the state closer to a paper trail.

The question of course remains if lawmakers are willing to push a state law onto the books. Sen. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican and architect of the election reforms in 2001 that led to touchscreen machines, took one speaker to task and noting that people can vote by absentee ballot, said "I don't know anyone who is forced to use a touchscreen machine."

Crist replaces Bense on FSU board

Gov. Charlie Crist, who earlier this month withdrew nearly 300 appointments made by former Gov. Jeb Bush, is not reappointing former House Speaker Allan Bense to the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

Bush last year named Bense, who like Crist is an FSU alum, to the board. In Bense's place, Crist instead named Andy Haggard, a big-time Seminole Booster and trial lawyer who is close friends with Sen. Jim King. Crist did however decide to keep Susie Busch-Transou, co-owner of Tri-Eagle Sales, the Tallahassee Anheuser-Busch distributor, on the board.

GOP chairwoman refuses to ride off quietly into the sunset

Gov. Charlie Crist is still facing an mini-rebellion from the outgoing state chairwoman of his own party.

After his election in November, Crist tapped Jim Greer, a businessman and Oviedo city councilman who ran the governor's campaign in Central Florida, to serve as chairman of Republican Party of Florida. The current chairwoman, Carole Jean Jordan, was asked to endorse him.

Instead, she sent out a letter to Republican leaders touting her own  accomplishments. And this week, a former party staffer is making calls on her behalf to try to line up support before Saturday's party election in Orlando.

The former staffer, Rhyan Metzler, worked as political director for U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris. In what was probably not a coincidence, he left the campaign the same day that she blamed an Orlando rally's sparse turnout on a last-minute change in location, allegedly because a tree fell on the airport hangar originally chosen. The tree alibi was later retracted.