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199 posts from November 2013

November 27, 2013

Elections officials worry about state's directive impact on voters

When Secretary of State Ken Detzner told election supervisors Monday that they can't encourage voters to drop off completed absentee ballots at drop off sites or early voting sites, it touched off a furor, in part because of the timing.

The state ruling would seem to have its biggest impact in Pinellas County, where Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark is so aggressive in promoting voting by mail that she has a system of secure remote drop-off locations to make it easy for voters to return absentees. If Clark can't use those sites, she said, the turnout likely would be lower in the upcoming special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. CW Bill Young.

But as it turns out, the issue had actually been raised earlier by two other supervisors -- both of whom disagree with the state's interpretation that the law prohibits voters from handing in absentee ballots at early voting sites.

First, the sharp-eyed Brian Corley in Pasco noticed that the state Division of Elections had revised its Voter Registration Guide in September. Corley wrote to the division to alert them to an "error," as he called it. On page 17, the guide reads: "Do not return your voted absentee ballot to a polling place or early voting site unless you want to vote at the polls" (underscore added for emphasis).

"When did this come into play?" Corley's office asked the state. The response from Gary Holland at the Division of Elections: The state has always taken the position that a voter cannot hand in an absentee ballot at an early voting site unless that site is also a supervisor of elections office.

Some supervisors are apoplectic about that interpretation, because it is common practice in many areas to accept absentees at early voting sites, since they are staffed by employees of the elections office.

The second supervisor who raised questions was Chris Chambless of Clay County. He told the Times/Herald that he asked Holland if "secure ballot drop boxes" can be used to collect absentees at city halls in his county, which has rural pockets. Chambless is a big proponent of that idea, but Holland said that wouldn't be legal.

"I responded that I disagree and I would like for him to research so that we may discuss further," Chambless said in an email to the Times/Herald. He said: "Providing a secure ballot drop box during early voting is a common sense solution to meet the voter's needs."

As Chambless described it, a secure sealed ballot drop box is in the polling room in the full view of the sworn election canvassing board, and after the polls close each day the ballot containers' seals are verified, broken and the contents logged and transferred to elections staff and moved to the elections office again under seal.

In Orlando, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles wasn't pleased with the state directive, because he said it undermines the customer service that supervisors strive to provide to voters. Not only that, Cowles said, but the Legislature changed the law to allow voters to update their signature at the polls if the signature didn't match the one on file.

That change, he said, encourages more voters to personally hand in their ballots, rather than drop them in a mailbox.

Said Cowles of state elections officials: "Why didn't they talk to us?"    

-- Steve Bousquet

After questions, O'Toole discloses job with group awarded millions by her committee


In the conservative Florida Legislature, Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, has an undisputed reputation for fiscal austerity.

None other than Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group founded by billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch, gave O’Toole an A+ rating in June, establishing her as the gold standard for a group that says it prizes “free markets over cronysim.”

Yet even this group questions O’Toole’s dual roles as chief operating officer of a nonprofit and vice chair of the House education appropriations committee that approved $6 million for the same Miami nonprofit in this year’s budget.

Take Stock in Children was awarded an additional $9.1 million from the state’s $200 million mortgage settlement. O’Toole, a former IBM executive with a thick Boston accent, voted on both matters.

In neither case did she disclose she’s paid $50,000 a year by the group.

“It seems the proper thing to do in this case would have been to identify that you have this role with this group,” said Slade O’Brien, the Florida director for Americans for Prosperity. “Or recuse yourself from the vote.”

Getting an explanation from O’Toole, 68, isn’t easy.

Continue reading "After questions, O'Toole discloses job with group awarded millions by her committee" »

November 26, 2013

New Miami Beach mayor fires commission aide who didn't support him in election


One of Philip Levine’s first acts as the newly sworn-in mayor of Miami Beach was to fire a commission aide who didn’t support him in the recent election.

Though Miami Beach has a city manager form of government (meaning the mayor has no real executive authority) the mayor does control hiring and firing in the Office of the Mayor and City Commission, according to the city’s charter.

Alex Fernandez was handed his walking papers Tuesday, he said. His termination letter was signed by Levine on Nov. 25 — the day the new mayor and commission were sworn in. Fernandez’s last day on the job is Friday, though he's still working until then.

In a text message, Levine pointed out that two other aides were also fired. However, those aides worked for an elected official who is no longer in office as of this week. Fernandez worked for Deede Weithorn, who is still a commissioner.

During the campaign, Fernandez had mailed a letter to Miami Beach residents, urging them to support a slate of candidates that did not include Levine. The Levine camp leveled an elections complaint against Fernandez for the mailer, claiming that he was acting as an unregistered political committee.

Said Fernandez: “I feel like I’m being singled out for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.”

Levine on Tuesday would not comment on Fernandez’s termination. In a text message, he only referred a Miami Herald reporter to the city charter, “specifically the powers of the mayor.”


Detzner's directive on absentees sets off spirited debate

Secretary of State Ken Detzner's directive to election supervisors on the return of absentee ballots has set off a fierce debate with some of them criticizing Detzner's action and others coming to his defense.

Detzner issued an order to supervisors Monday, telling them they "should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office." The directive appeared to take dead aim at one supervisor, Deborah Clark in Pinellas, who aggressively promotes voting absentee and has a small network of remote drop-off locations to make it easier for people to turn in their absentee ballots. (Clark may formally respond to Detzner's order Wednesday).

The state's order comes as Clark prepares to send thousands of absentee ballots to voters in the upcoming special election in the 13th Congressional district. Inside absentee ballot envelopes, Clark reminds voters in all caps about MAIL BALLOT DROPOFF LOCATIONS and that "an election employee will be at each site to assist and hand out 'I VOTED' stickers."

Detzner in effect said Clark was breaking the law. He issued a statement Tuesday: "It is my duty and responsibility to provide uniformity for the statewide implementation of elections. The directive issued does not change anything in the law, but is a clarification of existing law that was initiated by questions from supervisors of elections that prompted us to address this on a statewide level.”

The Times/Herald asked who sought the clarification. The state sent us an email from Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley from September after spotting new language in the 2014 state voter guide and the response came from assistant director Gary Holland in the Division of Elections: "A voter may only turn in an absentee ballot at an early voting site if the early voting site is a (supervisor's) office or when the voter wants to vote early and not cast the absentee ballot (at which time, per s. 101.69, {Florida Statutes}, the voter returns the absentee ballot and it is marked “canceled”).

In other developments, Election supervisors Brenda Snipes in Broward and Jerry Holland in Duval said Detzner took the right approach. Snipes said she has never used remote drop-off sites for absentee ballots in Broward: "It's not allowed," she said.

Supervisors Bill Cowles in Orange County and Susan Gill in Citrus County both questioned Detzner's actions. "From a practical standpoint, the voters have been dropping off their voted ballots at early vote sites and drop boxes for years," Gill said. "Voters will not be happy with the change that causes them the inconvenience."

Escambia Supervisor of Elections David Stafford said: "Our association’s general counsel (Ron Labasky) is reviewing it, and I look forward to his assessment. I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion at our upcoming meeting, including whether we will want to seek a legislative remedy."

The ACLU joined the fray. Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida Director of Legal Operations, said: "Given this administration’s record of attacks on Floridians’ right to vote, we are concerned that this directive restricts Floridians’ ability to participate in our democracy.” She said Detzner's directive is "not binding" on supervisors, a matter of legal dispute. Abudu urged supervisors to "eliminate needless roadblocks for voters."

Then there was Evelyn Balogh, a voter in Tarpon Springs who said she uses a wheelchair and a walker, is unable to drive, and greatly appreciates Clark's use of drop-off sites (which have been in use since the 2008 primary). "The whole reason I vote is because I can vote absentee," Balogh said, adding of Detzner: "I don't know what this man is thinking."

-- Steve Bousquet

Push poll about Charlie Crist and restoration of civil rights

by @amysherman1

A Palm Beach County Democratic voter told Naked Politics about a telephone push poll or survey the voter received in recent days about Charlie Crist's campaign for governor. This isn’t an exact quote, but here’s the gist of it:

Would you be more or less likely to vote for Charlie Crist if you knew he worked to get rapists and murderers the right to vote?

(We don’t have any details about who was behind the question about Crist and whether it was a push poll or a message-testing survey as a precursor to an ad.)

Crist’s initiative to restore ex-convicts’ voting rights is something that his campaign for governor will boast about and opponents may attack.

Murders and sex offenders were not eligible for faster review under the system approved by Crist and the Cabinet in 2007, the Tampa Bay Times wrote at the time.

Crist convinced a reluctant Cabinet to streamline the process to allow tens of thousands of felons to regain their right to vote, sit on a jury and obtain some state licenses. (Crist was a Republican at the time -- now he is a Democrat.)

Non-violent ex-cons could get their rights restored without hearings if they completed their sentences. Violent criminals and sex offenders still had to wait years before they could seek restoration of their rights.

“The largest number of ex-felons affected by the policy during the Crist administration were nonviolent offenders,” Mark Schlakman, an attorney at FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights who worked for Gov. Lawton Chiles, told Naked Politics. “Many advocates believed there should have been no distinction (between violent and nonviolent offenders). Once one completes the sentence -- a  legislatively mandated sentence -- he or she should be able to re-enter society.”

Crist wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald in April 2007 explaining his rationale:

“Unfortunately in five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Florida -- we do not restore civil rights to those who have broken the law once they have paid their debt in full..... Some who favor the current system argue that restoring civil rights is somehow ''weak on crime,'' as if restoring the right to vote, to serve on a jury or to work lessens the punishment or encourages a person to commit new crimes. In fact, the opposite should be true. Giving a person a meaningful way to re-enter society, make a living and participate in our democracy will encourage good behavior. Moreover, there is no historical record in states that have restored civil rights to argue that restoration has increased crime.”

Those who supported restoration of rights -- including the ACLU -- criticized Crist for not doing more to make the process easier. Ultimately the changes led to more than 150,000 restorations though a backlogged of 100,000 remained, the Tampa Bay Times reported a couple months after Crist left office.

In February 2011, newly elected Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that the process was too easy for felons. One month later, Bondi and Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the Cabinet scrapped the process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.

Later that year, the Parole Commission released a report that showed only 11 percent of those who had their rights restored in 2009 and 2010 returned to prison.

During the Scott administration, the number of ex-felons who had their rights restored has nose dived: Between 2011 and September 2013 there were 844 ex-felons had their right restored.



Miami-Dade lawmakers mull gender-specific schools

Two Miami-Dade lawmakers have filed legislation that would encourage Florida school districts to try gender-specific classrooms.

The proposal, by state Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., of Hialeah, and Sen. Anitere Flores, of Miami, would designate state funding to help five school systems pilot the idea at an elementary school.

The initiative would cost no more than $1 million, Diaz said.

"There is a school of thought that boys develop slower and girls are always ahead in elementary school," Diaz said. "At the same time, there is also research that shows that girls can be intimidated in some classes and not speak up as much."

If the proposal becomes law, parents would have the ability to opt in (or opt out) of the gender-specific schools. The students would all come together for lunch, and classes such as art, music and foreign language. 

Diaz envisions the pilot program lasting for two years. He considers it an important step in expanding school choice.

"There's a conspiracy theory that Republicans are all about school choice because they favor charter schools," Diaz said. "A lot of school choice exists through our traditional public schools. This is another avenue for us to create more options for parents."

Diaz already has the support of Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has a handful of gender-specific classrooms in his district.

"Single gender opportunities provide choice and innovation options to meet the diverse learning and social emotional needs of our students,” Runcie said in a statement.

The Miami-Dade district has two single-gender magnet schools: The Young Women's Preparatory Academy in Little Havana and The Young Men's Preparatory Academy in Allapattah.

Orange County GOP lawmakers skip delegation meeting on Obamacare


Republican representatives and senators from Orange County apparently weren't too keen on the topic of the latest delegation meeting: the Affordable Care Act.

Not one GOP lawmaker from Orlando showed up to the meeting in Orlando Monday night to discuss Obamacare. They reportedly missed a great deal of public testimony encouraging the legislature to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars to reduce the number of uninsured, according to a press release from the Oraneg County Democratic Party.

All six Republican members of the delebate submitted paperwork asking to be officially excused from the meeting. The eight Democrats representing Orange County attended the meeting, the news release said.

Here is the full press release:

Continue reading "Orange County GOP lawmakers skip delegation meeting on Obamacare" »

Rehabbing Rep. Trey Radel to Naples Daily: people are 'harassing me.'


A day after top state and county Republicans called on him to "resign immediately," U.S. Rep. Trey Radel appeared to be relaxing at his posh rehab as he smoked a cigarette in the Naples sunshine.

Then the Naples Daily News showed up. Here's their report:

"I'm here talking to my buddy," he said. "I feel great. I am here focused on my family and my health."

"It really is upsetting," he continued, "As I sit here and work on focusing on my family and health with people coming and harassing me."

When pressed for details, Radel clammed up.

"I'll just leave it at that," he said.

Full report here

So to recap: Radel, a former TV anchor and radio personality, appears to tell work reporters that they're "harassing" him because they want their congressman to answer questions after his conviction for cocaine possession. He should know better. This is a nationwide story and the subject of late-night TV jokes.

Plus, congressman, the reporters are actually working. You're not. Unlike members of the House of Representatives, who scheduled 126 work days this year, reporting is 24/7.

As long as your a nationwide story, reporters will cover you.

November 25, 2013

Seminole fans rally behind accused quarterback

The Seminole Nation has decided. Jameis Winston didn’t do it.

As state attorney Willie Meggs continues his investigation into rape charges against the standout Florida State University quarterback, Winston fans have parsed the evidence, outted the woman and derided her credibility on message boards, blogs and on Twitter.

Winston, who through his attorney has denied all wrongdoing, has not been charged with a crime, and Meggs said Monday that it is unlikely he will make a decision on Winston’s fate before the Thanksgiving holiday.

But the prospect that the redshirt freshman and Heisman Trophy candidate could be charged with a felony has so devastated many FSU football fans that they are determined to change the narrative.

“The Seminole Nation has been the biggest detective of all,” said Brandon Parks, a former FSU backup quarterback and 2010 graduate, before the Seminoles’ home game against Idaho on Saturday. Like many fans, he had uploaded a photo of a woman he considered Winston’s alleged accuser from one of many Internet sites.

“Here she is with him,” Parks said, pointing to a picture of a petite blonde standing, smiling, next to Winston, each stretching an arm around the other’s waist.

Winston towers over the woman. “How can you tell me she didn’t know his name?” Parks asks, referring to the police report that identified the suspect as “unknown” when the woman called police at 4 a.m. from an off-campus apartment last year.

But other websites circulated a different photo, of a different blonde woman, clearly much taller. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/25/v-fullstory/3779528/seminole-fans-rally-behind-accused.html#storylink=cpy

FL Republican chairman joins Lee and Collier GOP: "Resign immediately," Trey Radel


Florida's Republican chairman and the GOP county leaders represented by rehabbing Congressman Trey Radel called on him to "resign immediately" Monday, saying his recent cocaine-possession arrest and guilty plea were not tolerable.

"These actions have violated the trust of those whom he was elected to represent and fall short of the standards for an elected official; especially a member of the United States Congress," the statements from the Lee and Collier county Republican executive committees said.

"His actions clearly disqualify the pursuit of another term and if he should run for re-election, he would not enjoy our support," Radel's hometown Republicans wrote. "We feel it is in the best interests of all involved that he resign immediately."

The two counties approved the statements in separate emergency meetings -- all with the support of Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry.

"The people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District need a Congressman who is 100 percent focused on the needs of Southwest Florida," Curry said in a statement. "Therefore, Congressman Radel should step down and focus his attention on rehabilitation and his family.”

Radel, 37, couldn't be reached.

A spokesman for Radel, Dave Natonski, told the Naples Daily News in a statement Monday night: "Congressman Radel's top priority right now is to complete his rehabilitation and then return to work as soon as possible."

Continue reading "FL Republican chairman joins Lee and Collier GOP: "Resign immediately," Trey Radel" »