MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A coalition of voter protection groups gathered on the steps of the Miami-Dade and Orange County courthouses Monday urgently calling for an independent task force be created to investigate what went wrong in Florida on Election Day and the early voting period.

“It is clear that Florida’s 2012 election process was shameful and unacceptable,” said Maribel Balbin, president of the Miami Dade League of Women Voters.  “The state simply can’t afford to be in the national spotlight once again to be the butt of late night comedy, the national punch line, for dysfunctional elections.”

The League, along with the AARP, National Congress of Black Women, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Florida Institute for Reform and Education and Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to form a “multi-partisan task force” of state leaders who would draft reforms and have them ready at least two weeks before the Florida Legislature convenes in March.

“Somebody has to be accountable for what happened on Election Day,” said Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith. “And somebody has to be accountable for fixing what happened on Election Day.”

The outrage follows some of the longest lines in South Florida history to vote, yet lacked in turnout percentages for a presidential election.

“We know how hard some of our supervisors of elections worked but they were fighting an uphill battle and that’s unacceptable,” said Balbin.

The uphill battle was House Bill 1355.  It was proposed and passed in 2011 by Miami’s own Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Senator who has been ducking calls from CBS4 News for two weeks.

“We tried it.  It didn’t work.  Can we go back and fix it from here?” said Balbin.

HB 1355 decreased the number of early voting days by six and limited what could be used as an early voting site. The coalition of voter protection groups is now asking the governor for a task force, similar to one formed following the 2000 election fiasco.

“A budget for staff and resources, a timeline, deliver recommendations before the session starts, leadership.  It needs to be a bipartisan trusted group of citizens,” demanded Balbin.

If change doesn’t happen the League of Women Voters says they’ll march into the courthouse, and file a lawsuit to force it.

“People understand that what happened is completely inexcusable, totally unacceptable, and absolutely fixable,” said Smith.

Gov. Scott has proposed a task force headed by his own Florida Division of Elections chief Ken Detzner.

Other organizations, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition, AFL-CIO, Advancement Project, AFSCME, and SEIU Florida State Council are also banding together to tell Tallahassee lawmakers to make sure this election debacle doesn’t happen again.

They want a longer early voting period, more early voting locations, and a stronger effort to help minority voters.

Miami Gardens democratic State Sen. Oscar Brayon said he’ll sponsor legislation based on the recommendations.

When asked for a statement regarding Tuesday’s call for election reform, Gov. Rick Scott released the same statement he released on Saturday regarding the results for the 2012 general election.

“Around 8.5 million Floridians voted in this general election – more votes cast than in any other election in state history. A record of nearly 4.8 million Floridians also voted early and absentee ballots. We are glad that so many voters made their voices heard in this election, but as we go forward we must see improvements in our election process. I have asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to review this general election and report on ways we can improve the process after all the races are certified. As part of this evaluation, Secretary Detzner will meet with County Election Supervisors, who are elected or appointed to their position – especially those who ran elections in counties where voters experienced long lines of four hours or more. We need to make improvements for Florida voters and it is important to look at processes on the state and the county level. We will carefully review suggestions for bettering the voting process in our state.”

Category: FNM in the News

If Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican controlled-Legislature thought voting rights groups would vanish after Election Day, they were wrong.

Representatives from the Florida New Majority, Advancement Project, Florida Immigrant Coalition, the AFL-CIO and some Democratic lawmakers announced Monday during a teleconference with reporters that they would push for an overhaul of Florida’s election system as well as a possible investigation by a an entity from outside of the state.

“I don’t believe the Legislature or the Republican governor will do anything to help the democratic process here in Florida,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. “The governor putting together a task force is like the guy who stabbed you in the heart saying, ‘Ok, let me operate on you.’”

Florida was a “voting disaster area,” said Jennifer Farmer, a spokeswoman for the Advancement Project, a Washington D.C. non-profit. Scott and Republican lawmakers intentionally made it harder to register voters and allow them to vote by cutting access to early voting poll sites, Farmer said.

About 250,000 fewer people cast ballots in early voting compared to 2008, Farmer said, making it causing the longer regular voting lines that plagued counties like Miami-Dade.

A new law passed last year limiting early voting was a “wish list of things to do to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t get reelected,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando who was elected state senator last week. The group will push for nine reforms, but if they aren’t followed, “we’ll end up back in court,” Soto said.

Here’s the list:

We are calling for a Florida Voter Bill of Rights that includes:

  1. Reinstate Early Voting days cut by Governor Scott and members of the Florida legislature.  Require early voting for at least 14 days, including weekends and the last Sunday before Election Day, as well as ensure voting for 12 hours each day.
  2. More early voting sites.  There should be at least one early voting site plus one additional for every 65,000 registered voters in the each county.
  3. Local discretion in determining early voting sites.  Supervisors of Elections should have discretion to choose the best sites for Early Voting and Election Day based upon local needs.
  4. Increased polling place resources.  A formula should be used to ensure an adequate number of voters, poll workers, machines, privacy booths, scanners, printers and translators per polling place.
  5. Better voter assistance and bilingual access.  Improved voter assistance and translation at the polls is necessary to ensure every voter has the right to vote a complete ballot with full understanding.  
  6. Ensure provisional ballots are counted.  Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or polling place should be counted for non-precinct related elections i.e., countywide, statewide and federal offices.
  7. Provide adequate notice of polling location.  Voters should be informed of polling locations at least 30 days before an election.  Ultimately, on Election Day voters should be able to cast a ballot in any polling location within their county of residence.   
  8. A representative Community Advisory Board including voters of color, low-income voters, persons with disabilities, and the elderly.  Rather than the state changing voting laws in ways that decrease access and discriminate, the people of Florida should have open channels to government officials to communication what is needed to ensure free, fair and accessible elections so all eligible citizens can vote.

This article was originally published by the Miami Herald. Read the full article here ».

Category: FNM in the News

A coalition of unions, civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations is demanding a rewrite of Florida’s election laws and is seeking a federal inquiry into long lines during early voting and on Election Day.

“Now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project that sued the state on behalf of the NAACP after the 2000 presidential debacle. “We will be looking into further investigating what happened in Florida in 2012 just like we did in 2000.”

The Advancement Project, Florida New Majority Education Fund, two Democratic state senators and the union representing state workers said on a conference call with reporters today that long lines voters faced on Election Day and during early voting appeared to disproportionately impact minority voters who typically vote for Democrats.

That proves that lawmakers were seeking to suppress Democratic turnout with HB 1355, a sweeping election bill passed last year that shrank the number of early voting days and affected voters who move from one county to another.

“It’s increasingly coming out that this was not just a case of misadministration or bad management,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority.

Perera pointed to a Palm Beach Post report that found that the architect of HB 1355, Republican Party of Florida general counsel Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, was also a senior lawyer at the state Division of Elections in 2000 and was the mastermind of the error-riddled felon voter purge list.

“As more and more of this comes out, it appears a systematic effort to suppress voters. And that is a crime against democracy. There needs to be investigations about what happened and why, whether that be the Department of Justice, congressional hearings or the UN,” he said. “But people who are responsible for making this not a democracy need to be held accountable.”

The coalition is asking lawmakers to repeal HB 1355 and:
- Reinstate the 14-day early voting period and extend the number of voting hours each day to 12;
- Allow more early voting sites based on the number of voters in each county;
- Give county elections supervisors more flexibility with early voting site locations, now restricted to elections offices, public libraries and city halls;
- Permit people voting outside of their precinct to vote a regular ballot on statewide or county-wide races.

But state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who saw long lines in many precincts in his district, said he holds little hope that the Republican-dominated legislature, which passed the elections bill over the objections of Democrats, and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, would make the changes.

Scott also refused to extend early voting hours despite long lines, Braynon said. The Justice Department has oversight of the Voting Rights Act, which includes provisions making it unlawful to discriminate against minorities in elections.

“One of the first steps is to file a complaint with the federal government, whether it be with the Department of Justice on the Voting Rights Act violation. I think the intent was there and I think we may have it rise to the level of a federal investigation as to was this actually intended voter suppression with a full conspiracy and everything,” Braynon said. “As much as I believe that my colleagues in the legislature believe in democracy, I just don’t believe that the governor, as he has proven with his reaction to the long lines and also with the signing of and why 1355 was even created, that they’re going to assist us with this effort.”

Some elections officials blamed the long lines not only the shortened early voting period but on the lengthy ballot which included 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature. In Palm Beach County during early voting, the ballots had to be printed individually, add to the logjam.

This article was published in the Palm Beach Post. Read the full article here »

Category: FNM in the News