Dr. Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida, and an old friend, has written a very interesting piece on voter demographics and the current makeup of the Florida electorate.
Please forgive the lack of posts over the last few months, as my wife and I were a bit distracted by the arrival of our son!
Related to the political debate over the Florida 13th Congressional District Special Election, the issue of the use of absentee ballots became a flashpoint. The two primary sources documents involved, are the Secretary of State’s Directive (the only directive of 2013, and the only one originated by the current officeholder) and a letter from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, written in response. News reports state that the two parties spoke and the Secretary decided to not pursue the issue further, but as of this writing the Directive remains in place. What was in dispute was whether a Supervisor of Elections could have voters drop off their absentee ballot at a remote location that was not a typical elections office. The State argued that “drop boxes” were not permitted. Pinellas County argued the “drop boxes” were staffed by Deputy Supervisors of Elections, an audit trail was maintained, and the their goal was ensure that voters had more opportunities to participate in the process.
Legislation related to the issue was filed for this current legislative session, but news reports indicate the bill is presently on hold. The legislative staff analysis cites the dispute and indicates that generally other Supervisors of Elections support their Pinellas colleague. Putting aside the partisan accusations and arguements, the heart of the issue appears to be a very typical conflict in Florida- the issue of state control versus local home rule.
TBT and The Orlando Sentinel are reporting that the Florida Senate passed an amended version of the House election law proposal. The Senate’s action included passing an amendment that would allow the Secretary of State to “place a supervisor of elections in noncompliant status pursuant to s. 98.025,” apparently angering some Supervisors of Elections in attendance. The new 98.025 would read:
98.025 Supervisors of elections; noncompliant status.—
49 (1) The Secretary of State may place a supervisor of
50 elections in noncompliant status whenever that supervisor does
51 not perform one or more of the following:
52 (a) Timely file any report required by the Florida Election
54 (b) Ensure that ballots are distributed, collected,
55 counted, and reported in accordance with applicable law.
56 (c) Safeguard and account for voted ballots.
57 (d) Follow any statute that imposes a duty or
58 responsibility on a supervisor of elections.
59 (e) Follow rules adopted by the Department of State
60 concerning the implementation of any provision of the Florida
61 Election Code.
62 (2) The Secretary of State shall submit the written
63 decision to place or remove a supervisor of elections in
64 noncompliant status to the affected supervisor and provide a
65 copy of the decision to the Governor and the chair of the board
66 of county commissioners in the supervisor’s county.
67 (3) While a supervisor of elections is in noncompliant
68 status, the supervisor is not entitled to receive the special
69 qualification salary available pursuant to s. 145.09. When
70 removed from noncompliant status, if otherwise eligible to
71 receive the special qualification salary, the supervisor is
72 entitled to a pro rata share of the special qualification salary
73 based on the remaining period of the year.
74 (4) The Secretary of State may remove a supervisor from
75 noncompliant status after 1 year of being placed in such status,
76 provided that:
77 (a) The supervisor has complied with any of the duties
78 identified in subsection (1) while in a noncompliant status.
79 (b) The supervisor has completed during each year while in
80 noncompliant status a course of continuing education pursuant to
81 s. 145.09 as prescribed by the Division of Elections; and
82 (c) The supervisor has taken and received while in
83 noncompliant status a grade of 90 percent or greater on a
84 uniform statewide open-book examination testing the supervisor’s
85 knowledge of the Florida Election Code. The Florida State
86 Association of Supervisors of Elections shall annually develop
87 the examination, but the examination shall be approved and
88 administered by the Division of Elections.
89 (5) If a supervisor has been in noncompliant status for 3
90 consecutive years, the Secretary of State shall provide written
91 notice of such event to the Governor for consideration of
92 exercising the Governor’s authority to suspend the supervisor
93 pursuant to s. 7, Art. IV of the State Constitution.
94 (6) The decision of the Secretary of State to place a
95 supervisor of elections in noncompliant status or remove a
96 supervisor of elections from noncompliant status is exempt from
97 the provisions of chapter 120.
98 (7) This section is in addition to, and not exclusive of,
99 the authority of the Governor to suspend and remove a supervisor
100 of elections pursuant to s. 7, Art. IV of the State
CS/HB 7013, with changes to the Florida Election Code, passed the state House of Representatives 118-1, the changes include:
- Expands the ability of military member returning from deployment to register to vote after the typical deadline.
- Limits the ballot summary of constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature to the 75 word length imposed on others.
- Expands the list of possible early voting locations to include “fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, or convention center.”
- Expands potential early voting days.
- Alters absentee ballot processing procedure.
- Alters canvassing board appointment process to include alternates.
- Alters voting tabulation technical requirements.
Despite the 118-1 vote approval, media reports (St. Augustine Record, Tampa Bay Times, CBS Miami) continue to show a partisan split on additional election reform ideas. House Staff Analysis of the Bill.
With the State of Florida’s 1st set of Unofficial Returns published, most major media outlets called the Presidential race for President Obama. The percentage difference between the candidates was larger than the amount that would trigger any kind of recount and any remaining ballots would not be of enough quantity to change the outcome.
The media coverage of Florida has not been kind, and calls for changes have begun. Notably, former Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and former Mayor of Tampa Pam Iorio has called for reform on her Facebook page, while the Palm Beach Post reports that groups that have litigated with the State previously over election law issues have also called for changes and a federal investigation. The Governor of Florida issued a statement asking the Secretary of State to review the Florida election process.
With Florida’s early voting process set to end on Saturday evening, the ongoing dispute over the changes to early voting passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011 continues. In 2008, the Florida Governor extended early voting hours due to concerns about turnout. Requests have been made for the current Governor to take the same action, but that appears to be unlikely. Here are some current news reports:
A Federal District Court Judge in South Florida has issued an order in the case of Arcia, et al. v. Detzner (posted online by the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University) denying the Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and summary judgment and held that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) does not limit the State of Florida from attempting to purge ineligible non-citizen voters within 90 days of an election. The issue of the NVRA’s limitation on voter list maintenance programs was raised by various civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice.
From the order:
“Certainly, the NVRA does not require the State to idle on the sidelines until a non-citizen violates the law before the State can act. And surely the NVRA does not require the State to wait until after that critical juncture——when the vote has been cast and the harm has been fully realized——to address what it views as nothing short of “voter fraud.”
“By creating two distinct subsections, Congress meant to differentiate the removal of once eligiblevoters from those who were never eligible in the first instance. Finally, subsection (b) is consistent with Congress’ finding that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote is a fundamental right” and one of the purposes of the NVRA is “to ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained.” § 1973gg(a)(1), (b)(4) (emphasis added).”
“It must follow that subsection (b) was meant to apply to programs aimed at removing those voters whose status as registered voters was void ab initio. See also United States v. Florida, 2012 WL 2457506, at *4 (holding that pursuant to subsection (b), and in regard to “non-citizens, the state’s duty is to maintain an accurate voting list. . . . But the NVRA does not require a state to allow a non-citizen to vote just because the state did not catch the error more than 90 days in advance.”)”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has now opened a criminal investigation into the voter registration activities of Strategic Allied Consulting, hired by the Republican Party of Florida to register voters, according to media reports. The company has posted a statement online stating the problems were the result of a contractor not following procedure. The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Supervisors of Elections throughout the state are finding questionable forms and the Tampa Tribune reports on one county attempting a sysmtematic examination. The New York Times is reporting on the company’s background. This is particulary notable given all of the debate this year over the restrictions passed in HB1355 in 2011 regarding voter registration activities.
Ruling from the bench, numerous media outlets are reporting the Federal judge handing the U.S. Department of Justice’s challenge to Florida’s voter purge and its compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) has rejected the DOJ’s request for a restraining order.
The Judge apparently relied on the state’s claim that the purge effort had stopped for now and his interpretation that the NVRA prohibition on systematic removal of voters close to an election did not apply to the systematic removal of noncitizens. The Miami Herald has the details.
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida and its Secretary of State alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The complaint challenges Florida’s recent attempt to systematically purge ineligible voters less than 90 days before a Federal election. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.