November 21, 2018

Want to work for Ron DeSantis? Transition team activates job application portal

Desantis rally

As Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis works to fill hundreds of jobs in the administration, his transition team has opened up their search to the public.

The transition team launched a new website on Wednesday, featuring an application portal where people can submit their credentials.

Gov. Rick Scott had a similar portal during his transition, though it's unclear how many hires were ultimately made from the public.

DeSantis' website also has a countdown clock that ticks down the seconds until his inauguration on Jan. 8. At time of publication, it was 47 days, 12 hours, 56 minutes and 27 seconds away.

But who's counting?

November 20, 2018

Florida Senate president urges "civility" and a rejection of ugly national discourse

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Senate President Joe Negron shakes hands with Sen. Bill Galvano during the first day of the 2017 legislative session. The two senators are leading supporters of a 2018 bill that boosts higher education, including restoring the Bright Futures scholarship to its original levels. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

The next leader of the Florida Senate rejected the sharp political discourse that dominates America's politics, telling his fellow senators today that the chamber will be an "example" to other states and governments over the next two years.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who took over for Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Tuesday, encouraged both sides to come together after a "vigorously fought" election cycle.

"As Senate President, I have very little ability to change the national discourse, or to stem the tide of modern-day incivility that is so pervasive in an era of social media and 24-hour news cycle," he said,  "But I can tell you as Senate president, and while I’m Senate president, that the Florida Senate will have civility, transparency, candor, and provide opportunity."

He added that the actions of his fellow senators "stand in stark contrast to much of the dialogue we are witnessing today, not just in the political process, but really, in all areas of society."

Galvano, a soft-spoken moderate who has spent 16 years in the Legislature, earned praise last year for leading the Parkland school safety bill through the Senate last year.

It was a largely bipartisan bill that included some of the first gun restrictions in Florida in decades, earning him the ire of the National Rifle Association and a $200,000 check to his political committee from the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.

"Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano calls himself a Republican but is rumored to be the one who colluded with anti-gun Democrats to engineer the gun control package," NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer wrote in September.

Tuesday's swearing in, with Governor-elect Ron DeSantis watching, kicked off the start of the 2019 legislative session. Over the next few months, lawmakers will begin pitching bills until March 5, when the official two-month sprint in the legislature begins.

Galvano said he couldn't predict what lawmakers would be facing next year, but he encouraged his colleagues to "think innovatively." He said that he looked forward to implementing the many constitutional amendments that were passed this year.

"Together, we can be the example for other states and world governments, as to how to focus on policy, not politics, service, not severance," he said.

His message of unity earned praise from the Democratic minority leader, Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

"You have always been a measured thinker, very receptive to ideas, and very thoughtful and willing to listen," Gibson said.

After weeks of recounts and lawsuits, Florida's midterm results are now certified.

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A Republican observer looks at a ballot during a hand recount, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida's acrimonious U.S. Senate contest is headed to a legally required hand recount after an initial review by ballot-counting machines showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson separated by fewer than 13,000 votes. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) FLWL102

After two weeks of machine and manual recounts, lawsuits, accusations of "rampant fraud" and near-nonstop controversy, Florida's midterm election ended Tuesday morning with little fanfare.

With nearly a dozen cameras watching, the state's Elections Canvassing Commission signed off on the election results in a ceremony that lasted barely five minutes.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, who was filling in for Gov. Rick Scott, gave a smile and a thumbs-up to the cameras after signing the results.

"The voters can be assured that the results that we just certified reflect the intent of the voters in this election," Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. "Everyone we certified as winners were the winners in these elections."

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the other two members of the commission, certified the results over the phone. Bondi apparently could have appeared in person — she was on the Senate floor of the Capitol just a few minutes later.

In normal years, the canvassing commission is hardly notable. It meets after every general election to certify the results of each federal, state and multi-county race.

Scott, a Republican, recused himself from the commission after denouncing heavily-Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties for committing "rampant fraud." That prompted President Donald Trump to repeatedly claim voter fraud in the election.

"I have not personally been presented with evidence of fraud," Bradley said when asked whether Scott's claims were true.

He said that voters should vote out the elections supervisors in Palm Beach, Broward and Hillsborough counties, however.

"The voters need to hold those officials accountable," Bradley said.

November 19, 2018

Caldwell concedes, blames Broward’s ‘abject failures’ for loss

Florida Republicans(2)

Florida's last statewide race to be called is over.

After grueling machine and manual recounts for the razor-thin race, Nicole "Nikki" Fried emerged victorious in the contest to replace term-limited Adam Putnam by just 6,753 votes — a margin of .08 percent.

Her opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell conceded in a letter to voters and a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner Monday afternoon. 

Caldwell was ahead of Fried by about half of one percent on election night, which triggered a state law requiring two recounts: one by machine, one by hand. 

He writes that his loss was a result of the "abject failures" in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and that he would not pursue further legal action. 

Caldwell filed a lawsuit in Broward County earlier last week, asking the court to determine if Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections, “illegally included ballots after polls closed” Nov. 6. His campaign also filed a public-records request for vote counts and emails among Snipes, her team, and any third parties regarding ballot-counting.

Snipes misplaced more than 2,000 ballots and Palm Beach County's supervisor, Susan Bucher, said technical problems and understaffing meant their recount may not be finished until Christmas. Snipes' staff missed the state deadline to turn in machine recount numbers, and Bucher's never submitted them at all. 

On Saturday, Caldwell filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in Broward to mandate the county to submit machine recount results to the state, which would give Republicans a net increase.

That petition was denied, according to Broward County attorney Andrew Meyers.

"It has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed, despite the exhaustive efforts of my legal team to get to the truth," Caldwell said. 

Caldwell, an eight-year veteran of the House, said he is proud of his time in the public eye and has offered to assist Fried in any way he can. 

"I hope to see Florida continue to prosper and pursue the proper balance between all of the things that make this state great."

In a separate letter addressed to Detzner, Caldwell wrote that supervisors across the state failed to act "fairly and competently," ultimately undermining voters' confidence in the process.

Caldwell laid out a long list of errors and failures that he said "plagued the vote counting process," including problems with logic and accuracy tests, improper commingling of provisional ballots in Broward County and the 2,000-vote discrepancy between first and second unofficial results reported by Broward County.  

"We cannot afford to have another election that produces similar delays, irregularities and questions over the validity of the election system," he wrote. "Let’s get in front of this problem now so we can be the model for fair, free and open elections, instead of the target of national criticism and derision."

Cabinet officers and new members will be sworn in Tuesday during the Legislature's organizational session. 

Florida Dems hire investigator to look into altered mail ballot 'cure' forms

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Bins filled with ballots are stacked at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office as employees count ballots during a recount Wednesday in Lauderhill. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Democratic Party has hired an investigator to dig into altered "cure affidavit" forms sent out to voters whose mail-in ballots had missing or non-matching signatures, according to a statement released by the party's lawyer.

"Upon receiving notice of the allegations that the form was incorrect, FDP took immediate steps, including hiring an independent investigator to review the issues at hand," read the statement by attorney Mark Herron. "As soon as we know the results of the investigation we will advise you."

The move comes after the Florida Department of State sent a letter to federal prosecutors on Nov. 9 asking them to look into the forms, which they had received from voters in four different counties. The forms, which the voters had apparently received from the Democratic party, had an incorrect deadline listed at the top for mail-in ballots to be fixed: Nov. 8, instead of the real deadline of Nov. 5.

In the letter, the department's lawyer, Bradley McVay, wrote that altering election forms is a criminal offense.

READ MORE: Florida officials flag a possible violation of elections law by state Democrats

Then, the Naples Daily News reported that leaders in the party had directed staffers and volunteers to send the altered forms out to voters even after the true deadline had passed.

According to Caroline Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Democrats, the investigation is expected to be finished "shortly."

November 16, 2018

Federal judge denies request to extend mail-in ballot deadline

Walker

Federal Judge Mark Walker denied an injunction Friday night in a case to extend the mail-in ballot deadline to 10 days after the election, just like overseas and military ballots.

VoteVets Action Fund, a progressive veterans' advocacy group, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed their suit against the state in the Northern District of Florida on Monday.

They asked that mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Election Day, but not delivered before the polls closed at 7 p.m., be counted. They argued that the more imminent deadline for domestic mail-in ballots imposes an undue burden on the right to vote and deprives domestic mail-in voters of equal protection.

At a brief hearing in Tallahassee Wednesday, attorneys questioned expert witness Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley. Earley said there were only 145 late domestic vote-by-mail ballots that came into the county. 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's attorney, Marc Elias, said Nelson's campaign hoped to allow postmarked absentees to be counted within 10 days after the election, similarly to overseas and military members' ballots.

According to Florida law, mail-in ballots cannot be counted if they arrive after 7 p.m. on Election Day. The lawsuit claims voters shouldn’t be faulted for absentee ballots that arrived late.

Attorneys argued arbitrary factors beyond voters’ control, like mail delivery speed, weather emergencies, traffic delays, understaffing and human error cause mail to take longer to process and deliver.

They cited the case of one voter in Miami-Dade County, who reported that he mailed his ballot on October 29, 2018 — over a week before Election Day — yet learned after Election Day that his ballot had not been received by the county’s elections supervisor.

Elias cited the example of a few hundred mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Nov. 6 but were stuck in an Opa-locka mailing facility, possibly because of an FBI investigation into the Aventura man who sent pipe bombs through the mail before the election.

In his denial, Walker wrote that the whole point of the 10-day exception for overseas voters is to give them the same right to vote as domestic voters.

Walker compared the situation to the special precautions a military member may take while sending and receiving mail from loved ones while overseas.

“When he or she receives care packages from family members back home in the United States, it is only because his or her family sent the package weeks before. And when his or her family receives a letter from that uniformed voter, it is only because that uniformed voter sent it weeks before as well,” Walker wrote. “The same holds true for the uniformed voter’s ballot.”

Walker concluded that the different deadlines were meant to level the ground for overseas and domestic voters, and should remain as such.

"These rules have been used for over a decade, and to enjoin the use of them now would create a substantial hardship on the defendants and perhaps undermine the electoral process,” he wrote.

November 14, 2018

Rick Scott won't certify the results of his own election, lawyer says

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during an event in Hialeah, Fla. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Scott McIntyre 775192837

Gov. Rick Scott will not participate in the Elections Canvassing Commission on Tuesday, relieving him from the chance that he could certify — or not — the results of his U.S. Senate race.

Scott had been silent about his participation on the canvassing commission, a relatively obscure board that signs off on the results of each federal, state and multi-county election. The commission consists of Scott and two members of the Cabinet that he chooses.

On Wednesday, his lawyer told U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that Scott plans to recuse himself from the commission, just like he did in 2014, when Scott was running for re-election and also faced the chance of certifying the results of his own election.

Since the other members of the Cabinet were also on the ballot, he appointed then-state Senate President Don Gaetz, Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Kelli Stargel to fill in for them on the commission four years ago.

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters of Florida said they want a "neutral third party" to fill in for Scott. The only other member of the Cabinet who could replace him — CFO Jimmy Patronis — is a Scott appointee who also is also on the ballot this year.

November 13, 2018

FDLE commissioner says he's 'deeply troubled' that Pam Bondi thinks he wouldn't investigate voter fraud

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Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen wrote to Attorney General Pam Bondi's yesterday saying he was "deeply troubled" that she thinks he wouldn't investigate voter fraud in the midterm elections.

"I am deeply troubled that you think I have announced that FDLE would not be pursuing any investigation or inquiry into the conduct of elections officials in Broward or Palm Beach counties (or any other county) that may rise to the level of criminal conduct during the 2018 election," Swearingen wrote. "I have made no such announcement."

Swearingen's letter was in response to a letter Bondi had sent him on Sunday questioning his competence, writing that she was "deeply troubled" that he had not opened an investigation into Gov. Rick Scott's unfounded claims of voter fraud in his U.S. Senate race.

"Your duty to investigate this matter is clear," she wrote, adding, "Florida is counting on you."

Swearingen went on to assure her that his office was working with the Secretary of State to watch for crimes in the midterm election, and he said he had already opened a "preliminary inquiry" before she'd sent her letter.

Bondi had criticized Swearingen over claims that FDLE would need a formal letter from the governor to investigate voter fraud.

Swearingen replied that it had been "inaccurately reported" that his office would need a written letter from the governor before pursuing an investigation.

"We simply responded to media inquiries as to whether such a written request had been received and as of the date of this letter it has not," he wrote.

Despite Scott repeatedly claiming there has been "rampant fraud" in his race, he has presented no evidence for it, and state officials, the Palm Beach County state attorney and a Broward County judge have all said they've found no evidence of fraud.

The U.S. Department of Justice was in Palm Beach County monitoring the election, but the agency declined to comment about what observers saw.

-Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

November 12, 2018

Trump, Scott and Rubio continue to push claims of Florida voter fraud without evidence

Donald trump 2

@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump and Florida’s two highest-ranking Republicans are continuing to push unfounded claims of voter fraud as the state recounts votes to decide closely watched races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner.

The president said valid ballots in Florida should be thrown out because “an honest vote count is no longer possible.”

Governor Rick Scott said his Democratic U.S. Senate opponent, Bill Nelson, is “clearly trying commit voter fraud to win this election.”

And Republican Senator Marco Rubio said “Democrat lawyers... are here to change the results of the election and Broward is where they plan to do it.”

There is no evidence of voter fraud in Broward County, according to election monitors from the state’s Division of Elections who have been stationed there since at least Election Day. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not received a request in writing to investigate voter fraud from Scott. And the Florida Department of State said Monday their staff has “not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time. ”

The president suggested Monday that Florida should certify the election based on Election Night vote tallies — even though the state is in the midst of a legally mandated recount. He had previously tweeted that Democrats were trying to “steal two big elections in Florida,” suggesting that Broward County withheld votes during the 2016 presidential election because they were “getting ready to do a ‘number’” on Trump’s margin of victory in Florida and that Democrats “’found’ many votes” in Broward County to help Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” Trump tweeted, while providing no evidence. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

Read more here.

November 09, 2018

Bill Nelson goes back to court Wednesday, challenging Florida’s election signature match law

Bill-Nelson

 

Sen. Bill Nelson and his attorneys will head back to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Wednesday afternoon in a fight for a ruling that would require ballots with “signature mismatches” be counted.

Nelson is suing the Florida Secretary of State and demanding the state count every mail-in and provisional ballot deemed to have a so-called “signature mismatch.” He also requests Saturday's deadline to canvass ballots be extended until the legal matter is resolved.

The threshold for a recount will be determined by the number of ballots reported by the canvassing board by noon Saturday. Those returns are what will determine recounts in not just the Senate race, but potentially the race for governor, agriculture commissioner and a smattering of statehouse seats.

In the complaint, his attorney wrote that by rejecting and discarding ballots with signature mismatches, the local canvassing boards are disenfranchising the voters who cast them. The complaint accused local canvassing boards of engaging “demonstrably standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” process that has been shown to result in the “disproportionate rejection of [vote-by-mail] and provisional ballots cast by ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young, first-time voters.”

 

Mohammed Jazil, who is representing Secretary Ken Detzner, said in a hearing Friday that by changing the noon deadline, it would cause problems with the counties that have already submitted their unofficial returns.

He said that by 4 p.m. Friday, 52 of the state's 67 counties have already provided their returns to the state. 

"The counties would have to undo the counts they have already submitted and redo the counts," Jazil said."The recount would have to stop and then restart."

Judge Robert Hinkle, who is overseeing the case, said in scheduling hearing Friday that he doesn’t plan on rushing to make a ruling before noon Saturday.

“The subject this endeavor is to get this right,” he said in the hearing. “It’s far less urgent to have a ruling by noon tomorrow. It’s far more important to do this well.”

The state wants to defend the legality of the statute on signature matching, but Nelson’s side "wants a resolution as quickly possible.”

Nelson, who trails Gov. Rick Scott with a slim 0.18 percent margin, believes the final vote total will continue to move in his favor before a recount is called Saturday.

His election lawyer, Marc Elias, said on a conference call Thursday morning that by the end of the month, the senator will be preparing for a fourth term in Washington.

Broward County was still counting early voting and vote-by-mail ballots Friday. Nelson received 68.9 percent of the votes there in the primary. In Palm Beach County, where Nelson received 58.4 percent of the votes, the canvassing board was still counting vote-by-mail ballots.