The Secretary of State today begins a series of roundtable discussions with local supervisors of elections related to the State’s plan to renew efforts to systematically remove individuals from the voting roles that the State believes are non-citizens – an effort that the State has labeled “Project Integrity.” Past efforts by the State were led to controversary over the accuracy of the State’s data and lists of voters and were challenged in part under the section of the Voting Rights Act since deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama, v. Holder. (See the recent dismissal of the prior action, published online by The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)
In their press release, the State provides this schedule of meetings:
- October 3rd, Bay County Area Supervisor Roundtable, 1:00 PM CST 830 West 11th Street, Panama City 32401
- October 4th, Duval County Area Supervisor Roundtable, 11:00 AM EST 105 East Monroe Street, Jacksonville 32202
- October 7th, Orange County Area Supervisor Roundtable, 1:00 PM EST 119 West Kaley Street, Orlando 32806
- October 8th, Sarasota County Area Supervisor Roundtable, 10:00 AM EST 101 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota 34236
- October 9th, Broward County Area Supervisor Roundtable, 10:30 AM EST 115 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale 33301
The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, Et al., ruled that Section 4(b) of the Federal Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) contained the formula that placed a jurisdiction under the mandate of Section 5. Section 5 requires local jurisdictions to submit their proposed changes to voting-related laws to either the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia for preclearance before such laws can go into effect. While the Supreme Court allowed Section 5 to stand, it appears that its effect has been suspended unless Congress acts to replace it.
Section 4(b) provides (See: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/42usc/subch_ia.php#anchor_1973b):
- (b) Required factual determinations necessary to allow suspension of compliance with tests and devices; publication in Federal Register
The provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a State which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 per centum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 per centum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964. On and after August 6, 1970, in addition to any State or political subdivision of a State determined to be subject to subsection (a) of this section pursuant to the previous sentence, the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall apply in any State or any political subdivision of a State which (i) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1968, any test or device, and with respect to which (ii) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 per centum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1968, or that less than 50 per centum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1968. On and after August 6, 1975, in addition to any State or political subdivision of a State determined to be subject to subsection (a) of this section pursuant to the previous two sentences, the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall apply in any State or any political subdivision of a State which (i) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1972, any test or device, and with respect to which (ii) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 per centum of the citizens of voting age were registered on November 1, 1972, or that less than 50 per centum of such persons voted in the Presidential election of November 1972.
A determination or certification of the Attorney General or of the Director of the Census under this section or under section 1973d or 1973k of this title shall not be reviewable in any court and shall be effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
This formula was reauthorized by Congress repeatedly, most recently in 2006 for an additional 25 years. The counties that were subject to preclearance review under Section 5 in Florida because of this formula were: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry.
The Florida Governor has signed CS/HB 7013, making it Chapter 2013-57, Laws of Florida. The bill had passed the House by a 115-1 margin and the Senate by 27-13. Included in the bill are the following changes:
- Supervisors of Elections must now post an “elections preparation report” three months before each general (November) election.
- Allows individuals who move to another county but haven’t yet changed their voter registration to vote a regular ballot if the new county uses an electronic database as their precinct register.
- Allows counties that must publish a multi-language ballot to ask the U.S. Department of Justice for permission to send out single-language ballots for each minority language.
- Limits constitutional amendment ballot summaries proposed by joint resolution of the Legislature to 75 words or less, matching the limit imposed on other groups.
- Allows for investigation of election equipments vendors, requires disclosure of known “defects,” and allows for civil penalties of $25,000 per defect, plus costs, to be imposed.
- Changes the process for post-election audits by county canvassing boards.
- Requires that absentee ballots be mailed to the person’s on-file address or requires that a signed, written request be filed if the ballot is to be mailed to a family member or guardian.
- Allows for delivery of an absentee ballot on election day to a voter or their immediate family member only if there is an “emergency, to the extent that the elector will be unable to go to his or her assigned polling place.” An affidavit will be required.
- For overseas absentee voters, it expands the existing 10 day window for ballot to arrive after election day from just federal races to now include all races on the ballot.
- Expands early voting locations to now also include: “fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center.” Also allows for additional sites if there is a part of the county that lacks an authorized type of facility.
- Sets the year 2012 as the standard for the minimum number of early voting sites in a county.
- Increases the minimum number of early voting hours per day from six to eight. Allows supervisors to decide to have more early voting days: “early voting may be offered at the discretion of the supervisor of elections on the 15th, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, or 2nd day before an election that contains state or federal races for at least 8 hours per day, but not more than 12 hours per day.”
- Allows a voter, until 5 p.m. the day before election day, to “cure” their previously returned but unsigned absentee ballot by affidavit.
- Expands no solicitation zone to include a supervisor of elections’ office that prints absentee ballots.
- Sets an alternate canvassing board member appointment process.
- Alters the Presidential Preference Primary and allows its date to be set by party rule. Deletes the reference to a “Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee.”
- Makes it a first degree misdemeanor to accept, “a pecuniary or other benefit in exchange for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering, or otherwise physically possessing more than two absentee ballots per election in addition to his or her own ballot or a ballot belonging to an immediate family member.”
The Division of Elections has posted a memo sent to the Supervisors of Elections about the changes.
Without waiting for the last days of the 2013 Legislative Session, the Florida House and Senate sent two bills to the Florida Governor concerning changes to Florida’s Campaign Finance laws and its Code of Ethics for Public Officers. Most involved amendments to Chapters 120 and 112, Florida Statutes. The bills were passed more than a week before the end of the legislative session, forcing the Governor to respond quickly. He signed them into law on May 1.
Campaign Finance Changes: CS/CS/CS/HB 569
A third committee version of House Bill 569, which was a priority of Florida’s Speaker of the House, passed the House and Senate on April 24 by votes of, respectively, 79-34 and 37-2. Changes to the Florida Election Code include:
- Raising political contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 for statewide offices (and Florida Supreme Court retention contributions) and to $1,000 for other offices. The prior $500 limit on contributions to political committees is removed, resulting in no limit on contributions to those entities.
- Deleting a prior $100 contribution limit placed on those under 18 years old.
- A quick phase-out of Florida’s Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs). CCEs were groups certified to make political contributions by the State under F.S. 106.04, now repealed, but required to operate based on a written charter or bylaws, with a portion of their funds drawn from dues. These dues were collected regularly from CCEs’ members. Current CCEs must stop collecting contributions on August 1. Certification of current CCEs will be revoked on September 30.
- Enabling current CCEs to transfer all of their funds to a political committee.
- Maintaining one facet of CCEs – uniform contributions from the same person – but limiting the contribution to an aggregate of $250 per year, allowing only aggregate contributions to political committees.
- Selecting a member of a political party’s executive committee is now considered an “election” and is subject to campaign finance regulation.
- Amending reporting requirements for candidates to require more reports. Statewide candidates will now have to file weekly reports beginning 60 days before an election, and daily reports shortly before an election. Other candidates and political committees must now file bi-weekly reports and others on additional reporting days.
- Permitting elected officials to transfer more of their remaining funds from campaigns to “office accounts” for travel and other expenses, including hiring an attorney or CPA to assist with financial disclosure forms.
- Directing the Division of Elections to prepare a proposal for statewide electronic filing of all campaign finance reports.
Some of these provisions, especially those related to CCEs, will be phased in immediately. The remainder of the act becomes effective on November 1, 2013.
Ethics Reform: CS/SB 2
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 2, which was a priority of the Senate President, flew through the Senate and passed unanimously on March 5. In the House, the vote was 117-0 on April 24. The bill includes many changes to Florida’s Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, Part III of Chapter 112, Florida Statutes. Changes to the law include:
- Clarifying the circumstances in which a public elected official or candidate can also work for government
- Broadening the two-year prohibition on lobbying after serving as an elected official.
- Requiring four hours of annual ethics training for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, Commissioner of Agriculture, state attorneys, public defenders, sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, clerks of the circuit court, county commissioners, district school board members, and superintendents of schools.
- Setting up provisions for qualified blind trusts.
- Clarifying the voting conflicts provisions for elected officials.
- Allowing public officers to correct their financial disclosure statements and barring action on an “immaterial, inconsequential, or de minimis error or omission” by the Commission on Ethics.
- Requiring that the Commission on Ethics submit a proposal on electronic financial disclosure reports, and providing that all disclosure reports filed since 2012 be placed online in a searchable database.
- Allowing for ethics fines to be taken out of a public official’s salary, and authorizing the Commission on Ethics to hire a collection agency.
- Amending the definitions relating to voting conflicts and the process for dealing with voting conflict situations.
- Adding officeholders to the list of those who must publically disclose their finances, including community redevelopment agency board members and local finance directors.
- Barring political committees from giving gifts to procurement employees or their families.
This bill became effective upon becoming a law.
The Florida Senate’s Committee on Community Affairs approved a Committee Substitute for SB 600 amending the Florida Election Code today on a 5-3 party-line vote. According to news reports, proposed amendments were also defeated by a similar vote.
The current version of SB600 would:
- Require Supervisors of Elections to submit an “election preparation report” before each general election.
- Limit constitutional amendment ballot language proposed by the Legislature to 75 words in length.
- Alter the process for voting equipment purchases and dealing with “defects.”
- Provides for an additional automated audit of the votes cast in an election.
- Requiring that absentee ballots propvided on the day of an election only be given in cases of “emergency.”
- Brings back the former requirement of a witness signature on absentee ballots.
- Expands potential early voting sites.
- Expands the number of optional early voting days.
- Alters the canvassing process for absentee ballots.
- Allows for a cure process for unsigned submitted absentee ballots.
- Allows for alternative canvassing board members.
- Limits the term “immediate family,” for purposes of obtaining an absentee ballot, to spouse, parent, child, grandparent, sibling, or spouse’s sibling.
The Florida Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Elections held a hearing on January 14, 2013 on Florida’s 2012 election experience. Addressing the Committee were a selection of Supervisors of Elections from throughout the State. The hearing is available as a podcast and the 407 pages of hearing materials have been posted online. An article from the Miami Herald about the hearing is available.
The Miami-Dade County Grand Jury was convened to look at election laws after allegations of absentee ballots irregularities during the August 2012 primary. Their report has been published and includes recommendations to the Legislature and Miami-Dade County including:
- Restoring the prior requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed.
- Adding a new requirement for a declaration from anyone who assists an elector with their absentee ballot.
- Increasing the hours for early voting.
- Repealing the permanent absentee vote list by which individuals can request that they be mailed ballots each election without another request.
- Removing the ability of political parties to receive absentee ballot information.
On December 19th, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” Included on the panel was a current Florida U.S. Senator and the previous Florida Governor, whose written testimony has been posted. The Tampa Bay Times reports on the hearing and includes a quote from the current Governor stating that the number of early voting days needs to be reviewed.