Archives for the month of: October, 2012

Crack Palm Beach Post reporters, Dara Kam and John Lantigua have exposed the origins of Florida’s 2011 voter suppression law, HB1355.  Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell IV, who was formerly the Florida Division of Elections senior attorney, penned the first draft of the controversial legislation that made it more difficult for groups to register voters, reduced early voting hours, and required registered voters moving to a new county to cast a provisional ballot.  In 2000, he designed Katherine Harris’s flawed list that wrongly purged thousands of African Americans wrongly identified as felons.

Mitchell currently serves as general counsel for the Florida GOP.

According to his deposition in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the League of Women Voters, Mitchell admitted to writing “the early version of 1355 around January 2011, after consultations with three top Florida GOP officials: Andy Palmer, then executive director of the Florida GOP; Frank Terraferma, head of GOP State House campaigns; and Joel Springer, head of State Senate campaigns. Also included in early talks was former executive director of the Florida GOP Jim Rimes, now a senior partner at Enwright Consulting, a Tallahassee political consulting firm that counsels GOP political candidates.”

When asked by LWV attorney Daniel O’Connor if he was “aware of any instances of any voters in Florida voting twice in a single election?” Mitchel replied, “Not specifically, no.”  When asked,“Were you aware of any other types of fraud or misconduct by voters who moved and attempted to update their address at a polling place and vote that same day?” Mitchell replied, “No.”

Evidently, writing legislation for the Republican-controlled legislature is common practice for Mitchell. As he told O’Connor, “Typically, what I do before a (legislative) session begins is, I look at changes that I think would be beneficial to our clients,” especially regarding campaign finance issues. “In this case, that’s how this election bill got started.”

The full story is available here.

 

My collaborator, Michael Herron, and I have identified what seems to be a flaw in the processing of absentee ballots in Florida that has the potential to disenfranchise registered voters who are fulfilling their civic duty.

I will be providing more details tonight, live at 7pm, with Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect on WJCT in Jacksonville.

(Well, at least I thought I would have the chance to do so, but our findings will have to wait…)

The wait is over…new post, with scrumptious details.

Here’s my op-ed with Michael Herron in today’s Tampa Bay Times

With more than a million absentee ballots already cast in advance of the Nov. 6 general election, a question that should be on the minds of many Floridians is: Will my vote actually be counted? A healthy skepticism about the state’s electoral process is not necessarily evidence of paranoia. Indeed, a little known secret in the Sunshine State is that canvassing boards in each county are currently meeting, almost certainly marking countless absentee ballots “rejected as illegal.”

Not only are three-member canvassing boards, one per county, responsible for determining which absentee ballots are counted, they also are tasked with assessing the validity of provisional ballots cast by voters who are prevented at the polls from voting a regular ballot. An unsuspecting registered voter will be required by poll workers to cast a provisional ballot if he or she fails to provide proper ID, is accused by an observer of being ineligible to vote, or is simply making an intercounty address change.

As to the latter point, the state Legislature in 2011 decided to no longer permit registered voters in Florida who have moved from one county to another within the state to update their addresses and cast regular ballots at the polls. We expect to see plenty of provisional ballots due to this provision, and just like with absentee ballots, local canvassing boards will determine if provisional ballots — which are sealed at the polls in privacy sleeves — should be tabulated.

The important role of county canvassing boards is not new. Indeed, one of the most enduring images from Florida’s election meltdown in 2000 is that of a Palm Beach County canvassing board member, glasses perched upon forehead, holding a punch-card ballot up to the light and trying in vain to divine whether an inscrutable chad was hanging or merely dimpled. While Florida’s antiquated punch-card ballots have been retired, canvassing boards have retained their important functions in Florida election administration.

Of course, there’s good reason why canvassing boards reject some absentee and provisional ballots. Many voters fail to sign the backs of the privacy envelopes containing their absentee ballots and others are received by Supervisors of Elections offices after the polls close. But many other absentee ballots and provisional ballots are rejected because a voter’s signature appears not to match a signature on file with a county elections office. In these cases, it is left to canvassing boards to adjudicate whether a ballot should be processed and counted, or rejected outright.

The discretion of canvassing boards means that absentee ballots and ballots cast provisionally can be risky propositions for voters. Nonetheless, both the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns have pushed their followers to vote by mail (that is, absentee) in an effort to bank votes prior to Nov. 6.

In the Aug. 14 primary election, more than 786,000 voters cast absentee ballots. Over 14,500 of them—nearly 2 percent—were deemed invalid by local canvassing boards. Nearly 3,000 more Floridians were required to cast provisional ballots in the August primary, and canvassing boards found reason to reject nearly 1 out of 4 of them. Keep in mind, this was for a primary election in which “super voters” — the state’s most highly engaged voters — made up the vast majority of the voter pool.

One might think that the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots are fairly constant across the state’s 67 counties. But by sifting through the voter history files maintained by the state Division of Elections, we found that the rate of rejected absentee and provisional ballots was not equally distributed along racial/ethnic, age, or party registration groupings in the August primary.

As the accompanying graphic reveals, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian Americans were considerably more likely to cast absentee ballots rejected by canvassing boards than the statewide average. Hispanics, and to a lesser degree African-Americans, were also disproportionately more likely to have canvassing boards reject their provisional ballots.

In terms of partisanship, Florida voters not identifying with a political party were more likely to have their absentee and provisional ballots rejected by county canvassing boards than the statewide average. Republicans had a considerably lower percentage of their absentee and provisional ballots rejected, and Democrats fell near the statewide means.

But younger voters — those 21 and under — were the group most likely to have their absentee ballots rejected and also were more likely than the statewide average to cast invalid provisional ballots. These voters — many casting ballots for the first time — were more than three times as likely to have their absentee ballots rejected by canvassing boards in the August primary than voters 65 and older.

In the presidential election, it is quite possible that an even higher percentage of provisional ballots will be rejected by local canvassing boards as an influx of first-time and less frequent voters will be lining up at the polls. In light of the disparate absentee ballot rejection rates that we have described here, the latest tactic of the Obama campaign to mirror successful GOP efforts — namely, encouraging its supporters to cast absentee ballots — may in retrospect not look very wise.

Looking beyond the 2012 presidential campaign, we believe that efforts to address differences in varying ballot rejection rates are necessary. These efforts might involve more coordination across Florida’s 67 counties, so that all Florida voters face identical standards when their ballots are evaluated, and they could also involve more extensive voter education efforts that remind voters of the importance of signing their absentee ballot certificates. The right to vote is a fundamental one in the United States, and the high absentee and provisional ballot rejection rates we document in the recent August primary should be a concern for all Floridians.

August 14 2012, Primary Election
             

Absentee Rejection Rate

 

Provisional Rejection Rate

Overall 0.018 0.220
     
Race/Ethnicity    
American Indian 0.019 0.158
Asian 0.035 0.212
Black 0.028 0.243
Hispanic 0.028 0.327
White 0.016 0.180
     
     
Party    
DEM 0.019 0.225
NPA 0.025 0.341
REP 0.017 0.152
     
Age    
young (21 & younger)   0.046 0.286
middle (22-64) 0.025 0.212
old (65 & older)   0.013 0.180

 

Michael C. Herron is professor of government at Dartmouth College, and Daniel A. Smith is professor of political Science at the University of Florida.

Check out this handy palm card

Watch the preview of CNN’s upcoming documentary, “Who Counts,” featuring my research with Michael Herron on Early Voting in Florida.

 

A very nice profile of Polk SOE Lori Edwards by NCSL is available here.

Here are her responses to the key questions:

Q:  The nation has been watching Florida’s court case  over last year’s reduction in early voting. What’s your take?

A: The impact of the shortening of the early voting hours is less than that of some other new laws in Florida. The one most bothersome to me is the harsh guidelines for third party voter registration. I see people in our community, whether they are from the chamber of commerce, or teachers, or young people, who basically back away from helping give people the opportunity to register to vote because they’re daunted and intimidated by the heavy-handed bureaucracy as well as the fines.
Just recently the court threw out the fines and the 48-hour deadline for returning completed registration forms, but many unnecessary hoops and chutes and ladders still exist, just to register people. I’m not worried about the political parties and the League of Women Voters; they’ll be fine. It is the community people who are turning away.

Q: What other issues are front and center for your jurisdiction now?

A:  A number of issues have been big in this very important election year in what is a very important swing state. One is the voter purge we saw earlier this year. It was not only slapdash, but it had no upside. The voter rolls were not improved! All that this did was to shake voter confidence. That is going to produce challenges, and it may have the effect of tamping down turnout.

 

I didn’t have a chance to blog SCOTUS’s decision not to grant cert. in the case, NOM v. McKee, which grew out of a an investigation launched by the Maine Ethics Commission in 2009 after the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) failed to disclose its donors in its effort to defeat Question 1, which overturned marriage equality in the state.

Here’s a link to a series of discussions about the case by Rick Hasen on his ElectionLaw blog.

Back in the spring of 2010, I provided some pro-bono assistance to attorneys in the Maine Attorney General, drawing on my work on campaign finance disclosure in similar lawsuits in California, Colorado, and Florida, and my Election Law Journal article with Beth Garrett, Veiled Political Actors.

 

 

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