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59 posts from November 2018

November 20, 2018

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

SB-4
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."

Embattled Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes submits resignation

 

Brenda Snipes, Broward County’s embattled supervisor of elections, submitted her resignation Sunday.

Snipes’ resignation, first reported by the Sun-Sentinel, came only hours after her staff ended a brutal two-week stretch in which they misplaced 2,000 ballots during a statewide recount, mixed about two dozen invalid ballots with about 200 good ones, and blew a deadline to submit machine recount results to the state.

Snipes was attacked as corrupt by President Donald Trump and other Republicans, accused without evidence of trying to steal the U.S. Senate election by Gov. Rick Scott and maligned as “incompetent” by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Egged on by the allegations, Republican protestors spent days outside Snipes’ Lauderhill headquarters during a state-mandated recount claiming that she was rigging the elections.

Attempts to reach Snipes and contracted Broward elections attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks Sunday night were not successful. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the effective date was likely during the first week of January.

Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, a former communications consultant for Snipes’ office, tweeted early Sunday evening that Snipes had sent her resignation to the state.

“I spoke to one of her key people, [who] has confirmed that the resignation letter was sent today,” Pérez-Verdia said on Twitter.

Click here to read more.

Florida recount odyssey confirms that Rick Scott is going to be a U.S. Senator

Scott

Florida’s recount madness is over, Broward’s supervisor of elections is out, and Rick Scott is going to be a U.S. Senator.

On Sunday, following a 12-day ordeal in which 8.3 million ballots were counted twice — some of them thrice — Florida’s Division of Elections confirmed that Scott beat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson by 10,033 votes. Shortly after, Nelson called the term-limited governor to concede, ending any speculation that he might challenge the results.

With the extended campaign behind him, Scott, 65, will now head to Washington, where he will add to the Republican Party’s majority in the U.S. Senate. The win is the third in three tries for the former healthcare executive, who unexpectedly rode a Tea Party wave into the governor’s mansion in 2010 and used a tireless work ethic and his own personal wealth to hold onto power.

“My focus will not be on looking backward, but on doing exactly what I ran on: Making Washington Work,” Scott, who spent $64 million of his own money on his campaign, said in a statement.

Scott, who topped 50 percent of the vote for the first time in his political career, called Sunday for the country to “come together.” But his victory follows a tumultuous two-week period in which he claimed rampant voter fraud in South Florida without evidence and asserted that “unethical liberals” were trying to steal his election. As if to sting Nelson one last time on his way out the door, Scott preempted the outgoing Senator’s concession speech Sunday by announcing that Nelson had called him and was bowing out.

“We may have been heavily outspent in this campaign, but we were never outworked,” Nelson said in a statement that lacked any congratulations for Scott. “To all Floridians, whether you voted for me, or for my opponent, or you didn’t vote at all, I ask that you to never give up this fight.”

Click here to read the rest.

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 15, 2018

Miami-Dade launches hand recount of 10,000 uncounted ballots in Scott vs. Nelson

After all the drama, Broward finishes recount with minutes to spare — but it won’t count

Snipes

Via @HarrisAlexC and @MartinDVassolo

With just 15 minutes to go before Thursday’s deadline, Broward County finally finished recounting every vote.

At least, that’s what officials told reporters and the canvassing board at 2:45 p.m. In a surprise announcement at nearly 6 p.m., Broward’s director of elections planning, Joseph D’Alessandro, told the canvassing board the county actually turned in results to the state two minutes late. They won’t count officially.

Broward’s original count, turned in Nov. 10, will stand until the manual recount totals come in Sunday at noon. The manual recount will be added to the first unofficial count.

“Basically I just worked my ass off for nothing,” D’Alessandro said. “What caused it was my unfamiliarity with their website.”

D’Alessandro also told judges that a discrepancy between the first count and the recount — about 2,040 votes — was due to “a commingling of ballots.”

“We did not correctly handle the ballots,” he said. “We are going to look into that and see what took place.”

Brenda Snipes, the Broward supervisor of elections, said the next step is collecting the ballots with undervotes and overvotes in the the races for which the state has ordered a manual recount.

Because the margins were under .25 percent, three Broward races will be manually recounted: the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott; the commissioner of agriculture race between Nikki Fried and Matt Caldwell; and West Park Commission Seat One.

Broward plans to begin the manual recount Friday at 7 a.m. It will exclusively involve counting the undervotes and overvotes. The elections department was still completing a machine recount on some vote-by-mail ballots on Friday, according to D’Alessandro. Although the results won’t count, Snipes said any overvotes and undervotes found may be counted in the manual recount.

“I believe if they find under and over votes, we do have to use those,” Snipes said.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum was decided in the statewide recount. DeSantis won.

The Broward recount showed about 2,500 fewer votes in each race, with Democratic candidates losing about 1,300 votes each and Republicans losing about 600 votes. Scott lost 606 votes, while Nelson lost 1,385, leaving Scott with a net gain of 779 votes in the county. That led to accusations from top Scott surrogates, including senior campaign advisor Brad Todd on MSNBC, that Broward turned in the votes late to favor Nelson.

Click here to read the rest.

Palm Beach didn’t make the Florida recount deadline. What happens next?

 

Even prayers weren’t enough for Palm Beach County to make Florida’s recount deadline.

After battling with decade-old ballot-counting machines only capable of recounting one race at a time, overheated equipment and ballot count discrepancies, the county failed to meet the 3 p.m. Thursday state deadline for submitting updated vote totals in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services. Palm Beach, where nearly 600,000 ballots were cast, appeared to be one of only three counties to miss the deadline.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher had warned that elections staff would not be able to meet the deadline to recount votes cast in the governor and agriculture commissioner races and in a Florida House race, but said on Monday that she was confident her staff would complete the recount of votes in the Senate race.

That changed after ballot-counting machines overheated on Tuesday night and gave incorrect vote totals, forcing the county to recount about 175,000 early votes. By Wednesday afternoon the machines had been fixed, but Bucher said she was “in prayer mode to finish on time.” The new vote totals didn’t match the totals from before the machines malfunctioned, forcing Bucher’s information technology manager to hunt for several boxes of ballots that had already been recounted but whose tallies were lost when the equipment overheated.

“We gave a heroic effort and given probably three or four more hours we might have made the time,” Bucher said on Thursday afternoon.

Read the rest here.