November 16, 2018

Federal judge denies request to extend mail-in ballot deadline

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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 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.

November 02, 2018

Independents will decide Florida’s statewide elections, but polling them is tricky

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@alextdaugherty

Independent voters are the white whale of Florida elections.

They cannot vote in closed primaries, so they didn’t play a part in electing Andrew Gillum or Ron DeSantis in August, and typically turn out in lower numbers in years when a president isn’t on the ballot.

But a national environment dominated by President Donald Trump, combined with record-breaking spending in the U.S. Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, have focused the political world’s attention on Florida. The intense interest is reflected in an uptick among all voters in early voting, including independents.

Statewide polls conducted in the past month show a massive variance among voters who are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. One poll conducted by the University of North Florida this week shows Gillum with a 25 percentage point lead over DeSantis among independents and Nelson leading Scott by 17 points. Another poll conducted by CBS/YouGov this week shows DeSantis and Scott both winning independents by 13 percentage points.

and Nelson with slight leads within the margin of error. For example, the UNF poll showed Gillum with a 6 percentage point lead and Nelson with a 1 percentage point lead, while the CBS poll showed Gillum up by 1 percentage point and Nelson in a tie with Scott.

Accurately polling voters who don’t identify or aren’t registered with either party is a tricky proposition.

“When you’re dealing with small samples like that, it gets really difficult to get a good sense of what they’re doing exactly as a group,” said Michael Binder, the director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Library. “The margin of error for that is relatively high. That’s just a problem you have.”

More here.

October 11, 2018

Rick Scott asks CNN to move debate back 2 weeks, citing Hurricane Michael

Gov Rick Scott

@alextdaugherty

Gov. Rick Scott's U.S. Senate campaign asked CNN to postpone a scheduled debate with Sen. Bill Nelson by two weeks on Thursday, saying that the governor will have "no time for campaigning" as the Florida Panhandle recovers from Hurricane Michael. 

"We appreciate CNN understanding the dire situation in North Florida," campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman said in a statement. "Floridians deserve the chance to see candidates debate so they can judge their leadership skills, experience, and differences. Governor Scott looks forward to debating, but will have no time for campaigning in the next few weeks as he focuses exclusively on recovery efforts for the foreseeable future." 

Scott has been a near constant presence on TV this week in his official capacity as governor, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave and giving updates on storm preparation by state agencies. Nelson was in Washington to vote on a massive water infrastructure bill when Michael made landfall on Wednesday but both Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio missed votes on Thursday to travel to the Panhandle. 

Moving the Oct. 16th debate back two weeks would set the nationally televised event for Oct. 30, exactly one week before Election Day and after early voting begins. 

October 08, 2018

Nelson one of seven Democrats who didn't speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was one of seven Senate Democrats who did not speak on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination in recent weeks on the Senate floor, a list that includes a host of Democrats facing competitive reelection bids. 

Nelson eventually voted against Kavauangh, who was successfully confirmed on Saturday, and announced his opposition after Kavanaugh testified about sexual assault allegations from 35 years ago in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nelson tried to set up a meeting with Kavanaugh, but was unable to do so. 

"I've had many questions about Judge Kavanaugh and in an effort to be fair, I wanted to meet with him, but he was not available," Nelson said in a statement when he announced his opposition. "Dr. Ford's testimony was compelling and raises questions about his character and, therefore, there needs to be a full FBI investigation. As stated before, I will vote no."

 

The other Democratic senators not to speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh beginning on September 28, the day Nelson officially announced his opposition, were Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The only senator among that group who is not up for reelection in a state won by Donald Trump in 2016 is Warner. Manchin was the only Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh, and his confirmation passed on a 50-48 vote. 

Gov. Rick Scott has criticized Nelson for failing to meet with Kavanaugh during the confirmation process, and called on his Democratic opponent to confirm him. 

"Nelson sold his vote to [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer, who funds his campaign," Scott said in a statement on Friday. "That’s why he came out as a no before Kavanaugh was even selected. Shameful. DC has turned this process into a circus. It’s a great example of why we need term limits. Senator Nelson and Senate Democrats have used Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford as pawns in their political game."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gave a floor speech affirming his support for Kavanaugh last week. 

October 04, 2018

Rick Scott keeps calling Bill Nelson ‘confused.’ Is this a dog whistle that could bite back?

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via @scontorno

What does Gov. Rick Scott mean when he calls Sen. Bill Nelson "confused," as he did twice during Tuesday's U.S. Senate debate?

To Democrats, Scott's intentions are clear. The repeated references to Nelson's state of mind are a flagrant and unseemly attempt to draw attention to the age of a 76-year-old senator who has never been accused of poor mental fitness.

Scott's campaign said that's not the case at all.

"It's that he has become such a party-line liberal, and like most career politicians, he talks a lot but doesn't get anything done," the Republican's spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

Whether it is a dog whistle, or just a particularly cutting attack in a long line of brutish missives, Scott's campaign isn't backing away. Campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman sent reporters a post-debate recap that asserted Nelson was "losing his mind" and "barely hanging on."

"A rambling, incoherent, confused, disjointed performance," Schutz Zeckman said in the statement. It was a startling conclusion to draw from the debate, a straightforward, if not mundane clash between two seasoned politicians who went to great pains to avoid missteps by saying little, if anything, new.

Nelson's campaign said Schutz Zeckman's remarks crossed a line. And on Wednesday, the left-aligned Alliance for Retired Americans called on Scott to "stop using ageist, inflammatory language to describe Senator Nelson immediately."

Nelson turned 76 on Sept. 29, and has often dismissed questions about his age with a challenge to a pushup contest. There are 11 senators older than Nelson in a chamber where the median age is 63 — or two years younger than Scott. If elected, Scott would be 66 at his swearing-in, 19 years older than Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio.

Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich said it's obvious Scott's campaign sees Nelson's age as a vulnerability to exploit — part of a plan to paint Nelson as too old and having spent too long in office. Nelson was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1972.

Stipanovich is less sure how it will play out in a state where 1 in 5 residents are retirement age.

"Those are dog whistles. Who exactly they're designed to appeal to, since such a great percentage of the voters are Nelson's age, I don't know," Stipanovich said. "I don't know if that's a great strategy or not."

Read more here.

October 01, 2018

How Parkland school massacre turned guns into a top 2018 campaign issue in Florida

Congress Gun Violence

@alextdaugherty

Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.

The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.

Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.

“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”

Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.

All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.

“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”

Read more here.

September 28, 2018

Bill Nelson will vote no on Kavanaugh nomination

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson will vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination a day after Donald Trump’s pick for the nation’s highest court defended himself to the U.S. Senate on allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman 35 years ago.

Nelson, who is running for reelection against Gov. Rick Scott, made his opposition official on Friday morning after calling for an FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh last week and expressing displeasure that the two had not met in person.

“I will vote no on Judge Kavanaugh,” Nelson tweeted.

Scott has called on Nelson to meet with Kavanaugh but has not explicitly called on Nelson to vote in favor of confirmation. Multiple allegations of sexual assault have surfaced against Kavanaugh over the last 10 days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford publicly accused Kavauangh of attempting to rape her at high school party in 1982. Kavanaugh denies all the allegations against him.

In a lengthy and emotional confirmation hearing yesterday that was called after Ford’s allegations became public, Ford recalled chilling details of the alleged assault saying that she “will never forget the laughter” from Kavnauagh and his friend Mark Judge as the assault took place. Kavanaugh offered an emotional defense of his own, breaking into tears while going over his schedule in detail during the summer of 1982.

Nelson, who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, was not a part of Thursday’s hearing and hasn’t met face-to-face with Kavanaugh since Trump nominated him for the lifetime position in July.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday night that he planned to review Kavanaugh and Ford’s testimony overnight before making a final decision.

Other Republicans who were thought to be on the fence like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker have publicly said they plan to vote for Kavanaugh, though Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski are seen as the crucial swing votes as Republicans only have room for one dissenter if Democrats are united against Kavanaugh.

September 20, 2018

Bill Nelson is 'tired of waiting' to meet with Kavanaugh, will make decision next week

Bill Nelson

@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson expressed frustration that he has yet to meet with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and said he will make a decision next week, even if he cannot meet with Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick during a week where Kavanaugh may testify again to the Senate Judiciary Committee after he was accused of sexual assault. 

"I’ll announce it," Nelson said at a Hurricane Maria recovery meeting on Thursday. "I have tried to see him for months. That is the respectful thing to do. And I am tired of waiting. So, today, we have requested again to see him next week. And if they ignore that request, I will make a decision." 

Nelson says he has asked five times to see Kavanaugh, who has met with most Republicans and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body responsible for confirmation hearings. Republicans want Kavanaugh's accuser to testify on Monday or else they are prepared to move forward with the nomination. 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward by name after multiple outlets reported on the existence of a letter to California Rep. Anna Eshoo and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that described a non-consensual encounter of a sexual nature between Kavanaugh and Ford when the two were in high school. Ford said that Kavanaugh groped her and tried to pull off her clothes and stopped when a friend of Kavnauagh's jumped on top of them. Kavanaugh denies the accusation. 

"I think it would be a mistake on Mitch McConnell's part if he continues to ram this through," Nelson said. "I think as I’ve said sever times over the last several days, that there should be an investigation. It’s what is done when any new information comes up. It's the right thing to do. We’ll see if Sen. McConnell follows through of if he doesn’t. But at any rate, I’m ready to make my decision next week and especially if they deny me access to the judge."
 
Nelson is in the midst of a contentious and expensive reelection campaign against Gov. Rick Scott