Thursday, September 06, 2012

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Voting-rights groups file another challenge

"Voting-rights groups Wednesday filed another challenge to the newly redrawn Florida Senate map. The suit filed in circuit court in Tallahassee contends the Legislature ignored the will of voters by drawing districts with the intent to protect incumbents." "New lawsuit challenges Senate redistricting".

"If Obama is going to win Florida"

Jeremy Wallace: "If President Barack Obama is going to win Florida, he could use a big assist from former President Bill Clinton."

It’s no accident that Clinton is prominently featured in new television ads for Obama and that he was the biggest speaker of the night Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention.

“Bill Clinton is golden in Florida,” said Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor.

"Clinton, who is morphing into the role of the party’s elder statesman, has a long history of doing well with Florida voters."
But just as importantly, Clinton speaks to demographics that have been difficult for Obama to unlock this year as he did in 2008. Specifically, Clinton appeals to older voters in Florida and could make inroads with working-class white male voters.
"Democrats vow big voter push in Florida".

"New budget forecast released this week"

"A new budget forecast released this week by state economists shows the state is expecting in 2013 to bring in enough money to meet its needs for public schools and health care programs while leaving $1 billion for reserves. The three-year forecast will be presented to legislators next week." "Fla. expected to avoid budget shortfall next year".

"Home-state success story"

"Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has spent her time at the Democratic National Convention here much the same way she has since becoming chair of the party last year: with a spirited defense of President Barack Obama, sharp barbs aimed at Republicans and a splash or two of controversy along the way." "It's Her Party: Debbie Wasserman Schultz as Usual at the DNC".

"We’ve been here before"

The Miami Herald editors: "Lawsuits have been filed questioning the validity of elections in Miami-Dade County. From the Miami-Dade mayor’s race to the property appraiser to one judge’s seat to various state legislative seats, the right to vote in free and fair elections has been compromised."

The culprit? The abuse of absentee ballots, with two Hialeah boleteros accused of fraud. And allegations that nursing homes, comedores and public housing for the elderly are Ground Zero.

There are federal investigations, a special prosecutor in Broward County handling the Miami-Dade mess and a Miami-Dade grand jury that will be looking at possible solutions as well.

Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. The 1993 Hialeah mayor’s race uncovered absentee ballot forgeries of disabled residents at nursing homes. In the 1997 Miami mayor’s race, The Herald turned up so many abuses, including dead people voting, that a judge tossed out the absentee ballots altogether. There have been other alleged fraud incidents from Sweetwater to North Miami.

The lawsuits seek to toss out the absentee ballots and count only the early voting and Election Day ballots, but that remedy would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. It’s the wrong medicine for what ails our elections system.

"There ought to be a tough law".

"Close elections cast a harsh glare on voting’s imperfections"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "Close elections cast a harsh glare on voting’s imperfections, and the tight Florida Senate District 27 race between Democratic state representatives Jeff Clemens and Mack Bernard has been no exception. Less than three weeks after a recount declared Rep. Clemens the winner by 17 votes come allegations by Rep. Bernard that 40 absentee ballots were improperly excluded from the tally. If nothing else, the legal battle should be a good reminder of the perils of absentee voting."

If Rep. Bernard’s claim finds favor in Tallahassee, where his attorney filed a lawsuit last week, it could reverse the outcome. His attorney alleges that Palm Beach County’s canvassing board improperly rejected dozens of legal absentee ballots because the voters’ signatures on the ballots were different from the signatures the elections office had on file.

Rep. Bernard’s attorney, former Republican state legislator Juan-Carlos Planas, said in an interview it appears that some of the ballots were rejected because the voters printed their signature on the ballot envelope instead of signing in cursive, as they had done on their voter registration card. Others, he claims, were rejected because signatures were in the wrong place. Many of the voters were Creole-speaking Haitian-Americans, he said, and the English instructions to sign rather than print were not clear to them.

State law requires that absentee ballots be discounted if the ballot “does not include the signature of the elector, as shown by the registration records.” But the standard for assessing a voter’s signature is surprisingly subjective. For a questionable signature, elections officials and county canvassing board members compare its handwriting to that on the voter registration card. But canvassing boards rarely have training in handwriting analysis, and there are no official standards for what is considered a match.

In this case, the specific problems with the absentee ballots are not clear, but if they were rejected for purely technical reasons — the signature was printed instead of signed, or signed in the wrong place — a court could step in. Judges tend to give wide deference to county canvassing boards, but the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that absentee ballots should not be rejected for narrow technical reasons if there is no sign of fraud and the voter showed “substantial compliance” with the ballot requirements.

However this case turns out, the courts or the Legislature need to provide more guidance on what constitutes a legal signature.

"Recount lawsuit highlights risk of absentee voting".

Epic Fail: Wingers chase Haitian vote

This is some desperate stuff over at The Sunshine State News:

As two Florida Democratic state representatives contest their recent primary election defeats through the courts, a political consultant from one of the state's major bipartisan consulting firms suggests the Haitian legislators might be the victims of a political "ethnic cleansing" by their own party officials.

The two legislators challenging the outcome of their primary races in heavily Democratic districts are Rep. Mack Bernard of West Palm Beach and Rep. John Patrick Julien of North Miami. Both are immigrants from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and both have cultivated a reputation for being friendly to small businesses and school choice. Both received endorsements from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Julien was even endorsed by Florida Right to Life.

Bernard and Julien lost their primaries by razor-thin margins -- 17 and 13 votes respectively -- to opponents who had reportedly received the tacit backing of the Democratic Party establishment. Both winners are running unopposed in the November general election.

The two candidates are alleging voter fraud, and are being represented in their suits by attorney and former state representative J.C. Planas, a Republican. Bernard filed his suit Friday, and Julien filed his on Tuesday, both in the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, in Leon County.

"Is the Florida Democratic Party Victimizing Haitian Legislators With Political 'Ethnic Cleansing'?".

Wexler defends Obama on Israel

"Wexler defends Obama on Israel while Republicans slam Dems for dropping Jerusalem from platform". See also "Obama, Democrats on defense over party platform language on Jerusalem".

Job cuts

"Florida had 1,415 planned job cuts in August, down from 1,944 in July, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm that tracks downsizing. Year to date, there have been 10,026 announced job cuts, the report said." "Florida's number of planned job cuts declines".

Republicans ignoring growing uninsured crisis

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "So hard-fought was the vote on health care reform that almost since it became law the president and congressional Democrats have been underselling it. That allowed Republicans to recast the debate, ignoring the growing uninsured crisis, and win the 2010 midterm elections. Now Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has promised to repeal the law if elected — but has yet to offer any workable alternative for uninsured Americans, including more than one in five Floridians."

Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith told the Florida delegation how just three weeks earlier his 25-year-old son, a law school student, was diagnosed with cancer but received immediate care because he was still on his parents' insurance as allowed under the law. Another comfort, Smith noted, is that he also can't be denied coverage in the future. "If there's one reason we ought to win this election, and there are so many, we need to take the message out there: Affordable health care will affect your life,'' Smith said. "It's happened to me."
"Democrats finally tout health act".

Florida only state still up to "xenophobic trickery"

Fred Grimm: "U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore issued a summary judgment Tuesday — the legal equivalent of a slam-dunk — against the state and a blatantly unconstitutional policy adopted back in 2005 to deny young Florida citizens in-state tuition unless their parents can prove legal residency. . . . His ruling was no surprise. Florida, apparently, was the only state still up to this bit of xenophobic trickery." "Rights outfit took on Klan, then Florida". The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "It started as a court decision striking down an apparent injustice, but the ruling by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore threatens to become a legal flashpoint in the ongoing controversy over how this nation treats children of illegal immigrants. It shouldn't." "End two- tier tuition rule".

Freak show

"Black voters don't like Romney? Don't tell that to U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, and Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. They have been called upon to head Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s come-from-behind efforts to garner inroads among black voters." "Allen West, Jennifer Carroll to Lead Charge for Mitt Romney with Black Voters".

"Another Rubio?"

"Florida House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, discusses growing up with a conservative upbringing in a large family, he’s the second of nine kids; his agenda for the 2013 session, pension reform and an online public university; and tells National Review Online that he isn’t looking beyond his next term, which ends in 2014." "Florida’s Next House Speaker: 'Fusion of Mitt Romney and Tim Tebow'".

"He was designated as Florida’s speaker of the house last year, and he’ll formally take on the role this November. The state’s system gives speaker-designates about two years to plan their tenures, so he’s been able to lay out a detailed agenda. He wants to continue the education reforms that Jeb Bush worked on during his governorship, pushing for more school choice and accountability. He’s also interested in starting an online public university. And he wants to change the state’s defined-benefit pension plan, which he calls an embarrassment." "Another Rubio?"

Early-voting stalemate

"Monroe County says it will end its holdout in an early-voting stalemate if a court rules that the state's new eight-day schedule does not discriminate against African-American voters. Monroe is one of five counties that cannot switch from 14 days of early voting to eight, as the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have ordered, unless three federal judges rule that the change would not discourage blacks from voting."

The other four — Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry — have told the three-judge panel they will conduct early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for eight days, the maximum number of hours permitted by law.

The three-judge panel suggested that timetable as one way that the state might convince the court that fewer days of early voting does not disenfranchise black voters in Florida.

A decision by the court is expected this month.

In a statement to the court, Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer Jr. insisted that the reduction of early voting days would have a "retrogressive impact on minority voters." But he said: "If the court preclears the early voting change for Florida, I will follow the requirements of the law, as I have for nearly two-and-a-half decades."

Sawyer also told the judges that Scott "has publicly stated to the press that I may be removed from my elected office if I do not capitulate."

Scott never said that publicly, but did say he would take any steps necessary to ensure that the new eight-day schedule is implemented statewide.

"Monroe County will switch to 12-hour early voting, if court approves".

Where's Bill?

"Nelson neither asked for nor was offered a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention — and that’s fine with him." "Sen. Bill Nelson prefers campaign trail to convention".

Fines on elected officials, government staff and appointed officials

"The Florida Commission on Ethics has started to impose $25-a-day fines on 632 current and former state and local elected officials, government staff and appointed officials for failing to submit financial disclosure forms by July 1."

The individuals named in a report by watchdog Integrity Florida include term-limited state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, judicial nominating commission members Joseph Lopez, John Mariani, Nilda Pedrosa and R. Kyle Gavin , and Amy Graham, a former spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott.
"More than 600 State Officials, Staff Failed to Filed Financial Disclosure". See also "In Florida, 632 Public Officials Late in Filing Financial Disclosure Forms".