Given the pivotal role Florida and its 29 electoral votes have played in recent Presidential elections, November's midterms could prove to be pivotal in the state, and not only for Florida. November 6th, 2018 could prove to be a landmark moment for democracy, helping to determine the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election.
The combination of a win by Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum, along with passage of the state's Amendment 4, could be a death knell to right wing voter suppression schemes which have long plagued the Sunshine State.
Amendment 4 is a ballot measure "designed to automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completing of their sentences including prison, parole and probation". As observed by the Intercept's Rachel Cohen, Florida's "draconian" felony disenfranchisement law --- "passed in 1868, after an unsuccessful attempt by Florida and other [former Confederate] states to reject the 15th amendment" --- has served to disenfranchise "more than 20% of otherwise eligible black voters in Florida."
If adopted by voters next month, the new Constitutional measure would automatically "restore voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million Floridians who have fully completed sentences," Cohen reports. If added to the 13 million currently registered Floridian voters, Amendment 4 could potentially increase total voter rolls by more than 10%.
Only 3% of African-Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Thus, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to calculate the potential impact of increasing, by 20%, the number of black Florida voters who would be eligible to vote in 2020.
But, felony convictions are not the only means by which Republicans have sought to suppress turnout of the "wrong" voters over the past two decades during which the GOP has occupied the Governor's mansion and exercised the Chief Executive's right to appoint Florida's Secretaries of State...
On the stump this week for Republican candidates, NJ's Gov. Chris Christie said GOP governors need to win this year, so they can be in control of the "voting mechanisms" during what he believes might be his own run for President in 2016. He cited three races in particular, in three states that would be crucial to him as the GOP nominee, as reported by New Jersey's The Record...
Governor Christie pushed further into the contentious debate over voting rights than ever before, saying Tuesday that Republicans need to win gubernatorial races this year so that they're the ones controlling "voting mechanisms" going into the next presidential election.
Republican governors are facing intense fights in the courts over laws they pushed that require specific identification in order to vote and that reduce early voting opportunities. Critics say those laws sharply curtail the numbers of poor and minority voters, who would likely vote for Democrats. Christie - who vetoed a bill to extend early voting in New Jersey - is campaigning for many of those governors now as he considers a run for president in 2016.
Christie stressed the need to keep Republicans in charge of states - and overseeing state-level voting regulations - ahead of the next presidential election.
"Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?" he asked.
Great questions, Governor Christie! Let's take a crack at offering some answers for ya...
On a party-line vote, a Florida county's Republican majority Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to eliminate almost one-third of Manatee County's voting sites. The board accepted a proposal by Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett (R) by a 6-1 vote to trim the number of precincts, despite unanimous public testimony against the move - and complaints by the lone Democratic Commissioner that it would eliminate half of the polling places in his heavily minority District 2.
In the public comment section of the meeting, all ten speeches strongly opposed the move. Representatives of the local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Council warned that the cuts would decrease voter turnout because voters would have to travel further to a polling place, especially among the elderly and people without cars, and noted that the cuts disproportionately affected minority-heavy precincts.
Bennett assured the commission that if lines are longer in 2014 as a result of these changes, he would ask them to revisit the decision in 2015, before the 2016 elections.
Manatee's Supervisor of Elections Bennett, as Israel points out, is no stranger to voter suppression. In fact, he seems to rather love it. While serving as a State Senator in 2011, he endorsed a Republican bill to limit early voting during the 2012 Presidential election by explaining: "I wouldn't have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who's willing to walk 200 miles...This should not be easy."
Hmmm..."That person in Africa". Just a common turn of phrase, apparently.
That 2011 bill was eventually passed, signed by Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott and successfully created hours-long lines for (certain) voters in the Sunshine State in 2012.
Those days of pretending to give a damn about voting rights must be over for some Florida Republicans, however, particularly with Scott up for re-election this year and his polling numbers looking fairly bleak against his likely challenger, former Republican Governor turned Democratic candidate Charlie Crist.
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On my KPFK/Pacifica Radio show today we covered quite a bit of ground.
From Republican admissions about the most obvious story in the world (that the Florida GOP was attempting to suppress the vote this year), to the debate over filibuster reform in the U.S. Senate, and whether it should be mended, ended, or none of the above, with David Swanson (his vote: end it!), to the latest Green News Report and a remarkable piece of audio tape from a (now former?) Bill O'Reilly fan who saw the new documentary Chasing Ice and is pissed that she's been so misled by O'Reilly and Fox "News" about climate change for so many years...
FL's former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist says the GOP's suggestion "that there's some massive fraud going on" by Florida voters is "laughable".
Rachel Maddow's entire intro and interview with Crist last night is very much worth watching, and so we'll post both at the bottom of this article. But one point in particular during the interview with the Republican-turned-independent needs to be highlighted here.
The contrast couldn't be more stark from his successor, the reprehensible current Governor Rick Scott, who spent much of this past election year rolling back Crist's improvement to the voting system, in an attempt to keep legal, Democratic-leaning voters from being able to cast their vote at all, as even other Republican officials in the state are now beginning to admit out loud.
In the following, powerful clip from Maddow's full interview last night, she asks Crist, as the former Republican Governor of Florida, about the ridiculously transparent claims by the GOP that restrictions on voter registration, the right to vote by former felons, and the shortening of early voting is "only about voter fraud" and "voting integrity."
"Is it clear to you that is just bunk?," she asks Crist who replies directly in turn: "It's crystal clear to me. You couldn't be more right, in my humble opinion. And, you know, we can say this about all these road bloacks that are put in the way of people exercising their right to vote, and we saw it in a dramatic fashion this last Election Day in Florida"...
Rachel Maddow's full intro to the interview with Charlie Christ, describing how and why he was purged by the party (likely had something to do with his progressive position on democracy!) and the full 11/27/12 interview with the former Republican FL Governor, both follow below...
On Thursday, Florida's fairlyprogressive former Republican Governor Charlie Crist spoke in support of President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Crist became an independent during his failed 2010 run for the U.S. Senate, after it became clear that his party was likely to nominate Marco Rubio for the seat instead. All of that had come about after Crist had demonstrated the temerity to famously embrace the President when he came to pitch the stimulus bill in the Sunshine State, which ended up saving tens of thousands of Florida jobs after the 2008 global economic meltdown threatened to plunge the country into another Great Depression.
Echoing Ronald Reagan's famously-cited reasons for the former President's own switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, Crist explained during his speech last night: "I can certainly relate. I didn't leave the Republican Party; it left me."
"Then again," he added, "as my friend Jeb Bush recently noted, Reagan himself would have been too moderate and too reasonable for today's GOP."
With all of that, here is how CNN described Crist during his speech yesterday...
Perhaps we missed it, but we don't remember the "liberal" CNN similarly labeling Democrat-turned-Republican Artur Davis a "turncoat" when he spoke at the RNC last week in favor of Mitt Romney. Or did they just reserve that distinguished label only for Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist when he spoke on behalf of Barack Obama?
In any event, CNN is in terrific company with their slur. They weren't the only one to compare Crist to a traitor by describing him as a "turncoat". Rightwing extremist Glenn Beck's pretend "news" site The Blaze did so as well:
Unlike CNN, however, Beck's site appears to have done the right thing and removed that descriptor from its headline (though it's still in the page name) after initially using it.
Hopefully, soon will come the GOP's ACORN "voter fraud" fraud backlash, though I realize that's still very much a hope given the continuous rightwing media's full-throated reporting attempt to punk American democracy in regards this issue.
Palm Beach Post, thankfully, bothered to do some actual reporting yesterday, and led with the following good news:
Republican National Committee officials are turning up the heat on a left-leaning organization linked with Sen. Barack Obama that tried to register "Mickey Mouse" to vote this summer, but state officials say accusations of voter fraud in Florida are mostly unfounded.
The story goes on to quote FL Secretary of State Kurt Browning who says: "'we have not seen a persistent problem across the state of Florida' with registration fraud by ACORN or other groups."
And FL's Republican Governor Charlie Crist who says: "There's some who sort of enjoy chaos. That's kind of what's going on more than fraud."
Bingo, Charlie. And rather ironic, given the outrageous statement John McCain made during last night's debate; the GOP's own far-worse-than-ACORN's record of registration form problems in California; Crist's own record of voter purges in his own state; and the Republican Party's dismal history of trying to use ACORN at the last minute, just before elections, in order to wreak the "chaos" that Crist was referring to...
After months of being told over and over by Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) office, People for the American Way (PFAW), and many of the other most ardent supporters of Holt's flawed Election Reform Bill (HR811) that "there is no support in Congress for a ban on DREs," it looks like they must have been wrong. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and co-sponsor Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) filed such a bill today.
Here's the complete bill [PDF] which we've yet to read in full. But note this item from page 41, Line 7:
RESTRICTION ON USE OF DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEMS -
A direct recording electronic voting system may not be used to administer any election for Federal office held in 2012 or any subsequent year.
A ban on such machines, finally? Yes! By 2012? Unfortunately, yes. But let's overlook that last point for a moment.
In a statement issued by Nelson today, pointing out that DRE (often referred to as "touch-screen") voting systems are "unreliable and vulnerable to error," the senator says, "The bottom line is we have to ensure every vote is counted – and, counted properly...Citizens must have confidence in the integrity of their elections.”
The new language banning DREs was added today to a previous version of the same bill which Nelson had introduced originally in early Summer. This version "would be the first [bill] to seek a ban on electronic touch-screen voting machines in federal elections nationwide," according to his statement, which adds that the language was updated after a recent meeting with Florida's Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning, once an ardent support of DRE voting systems.
When Nelson's original version of the legislation was introduced some months ago, it was largely a "clone version" of Holt's original HR811 introduced in the House, but with a number of extra provisions addressing concerns of voter intimidation and suppression.
Little attention had been given to Nelson's bill at the time, since the Rules Committee was regarded as having jurisdiction for any Election Reform bills in the Senate, and the committee chair, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), had made clear she intended to introduce her own version of Election Reform as the Senate counterpart to Holt's. She eventually introduced S. 1487, which has been subsequently criticized by Election Integrity advocates as being even more flawed then Holt's much-criticized bill.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: We were invited to work on the Holt bill prior to its introduction, and succeeded in adding several much-improved provisions. Yet the bill, as currently written --- and far more so since being drastically watered down throughout the committee process --- has failed to garner our support.)
DREs: "Not a Reasonable Voting System"
Neither Feinstein's nor Holt's bill had called for a ban on DRE voting systems, however, despite an outcry among Election Integrity advocates and a host of computer scientists and security experts who argued that DREs were vulnerable to hacking, non-transparent, prone to error, antithetical to democracy, and thus simply could not be used safely in elections. With or without a so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail" (VVPAT) printer attached.
Johns Hopkins computer professor Avi Rubin testified earlier this year that "after four years of studying the issue, I now believe that a DRE with a VVPAT is not a reasonable voting system."
Stanford professor and VerifiedVoting.org founder David Dill, arguing in favor of the Holt bill, admitted, "I would personally prefer to see optical scan machines used nationwide."
And former legislative director of VoteTrustUSA.org Warren Stewart, now also of VerifiedVoting, had told a Senate panel earlier this year that while there were disagreements among some in the EI movement, most had agreed that touch-screen systems must not not be used. "While this broad based movement embraces a wide range of proposals and positions," he testified, "it is unified in the conclusion that the direct electronic recording of votes to computer memory is inimical to democracy."
And yet, all three of the above advocates, along with many others, continued to argue --- while failing to offer any actual evidence for the claim --- that there was simply no support for the idea of a DRE ban in either house of the U.S. Congress.
All the while, The BRAD BLOG had maintained that they, and the other Holt supporters, had fallen victim to a hoax by People for the American Way (PFAW). The popular public advocacy group had long pushed the unsupported notion that there was no congressional support for such a ban, in order to see the bill passed specifically without such a ban. It was one of several false notions being forwarded by the group in favor of the bill, as we argued both here and at Alernet early in the year.
A careful examination of PFAW's on-the-record statements, and numerous on and off-the-record conversations with their Executive Director and legislative leaders by The BRAD BLOG over many months, revealed that PFAW (almost inexplicably) has actually been advocating in favor of the use of dangerous DRE voting systems in American elections. It's fair to say that Holt's bill had thus been held hostage to ensure that such systems would not be banned.
But then came the fallout from the failed 13th Congressional District election last November in Nelson's home state, followed by California Sec. of State Debra Bowen's landmark scientific findings, Rep. Susan Davis's (D-CA) amendment this past summer, and a killer editorial from the New York Times as the tide began to slowly turn...
For months, supporters of Rep. Rush Holt's Election Reform Bill (HR 811) - from computer scientists such as David Dill and Avi Rubin to extremely powerful advocacy groups such as People for the American Way (PFAW) and VoteTrustUSA --- have been telling critics who believe that Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touch-screen systems are antithetical to democracy that an amendment to his bill, requiring a ban on such systems, could not be passed by Congress.
They appear to have accepted the talking point as gospel, and thus have argued that any attempt to amend the current bill (and the matching one in the Senate) is a fruitless endeavor, and we should therefore support the bill as is because something is better than nothing.
In the case of PFAW, they've actually been responsible, in no small part, from selling that line to the public.
Never mind that if the many respected Election Integrity advocates and computer scientists repeating that unsubstantiated argument actually announced they would not support any federal Election Reform legislation that failed to include such a ban --- one which most of them have said they'd support (PFAW not included) --- we might actually get such a ban added to the bill.
Nonetheless, despite my best efforts, I have yet to be able to find a single congress member who supports the bill as currently written, without such a ban, who will go on record --- or even admit off-record --- that they would vote against the Election Reform bill if it included a ban on DREs.
Will the Democrats in the U.S. Congress finally begin to realize their mistake in allowing for DRE touch-screen voting machines now that the Republican Governor of Florida has led the Republican-majority Florida legislature (along with every Democrat in it as well) to do the right thing and move to all paper ballots? Or will U.S. Congressional Dems continue to allow themselves to lose yet another issue that they should be owning?
We'll leave it to the Election Integrity advocates on the ground --- the coalition of GoAllTheWayFlorida.com --- who have worked so long and hard, to give you the great news...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 3 May 2007
FLORIDA MOVES TO PAPER BALLOTS!
FLORIDA VOTERS COALITION CONGRATULATES GOVERNOR CRIST AND THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE FOR ENDING PAPERLESS VOTING.
TALLAHASSEE: In a historic vote, the Florida House today unanimously passed CS/HB 537, already passed in the Senate, that provides almost all voters paper ballots in time for the 2008 Presidential election, and bans paperless DREs outright by 2012. The bill now goes to the Governor where he’s sure to sign it since it’s his initiative.
Counties will have the option to pitch DREs immediately and provide ballot marking devices for voters with disabilities. “FVC urges all 67 counties to convert to uniform paper ballot systems without delay and leave no voter behind voting on failed electronic voting machines,” said FVC Co-Founder, Dan McCrea.
The bill is funded with $27.9 million in HAVA funds and there’s plenty more money in that account should more be needed next year. Counties will get help from the state to purchase optical scan equipment to count the paper ballots; ballot-on-demand equipment to ease paper congestion problems in Early Voting; and ballot marking devices to serve the disabled.
While there was talk earlier in the legislative session about retrofitting printers to failed touchscreen DREs, that talk faded as legislators saw it would be throwing good money after bad...
In still more very good FL news, a U.S. House panel has asked the non-partisan GAO to investigate the contested FL-13 election between Christine Jennings and Vern Buchanan where 18,000 votes disappeared on the DRE touch-screen voting systems in Sarasota.
Congratulations, Florida voters! And especially to the tireless patriots down there who have been fighting so hard, for so long! There are still many fights ahead down there before true Election Integrity returns to Florida, but there is no denying that this is an enormous victory. Let's hope it rubs off on the other 49 states...and the U.S. Congress!
Wolf Blitzer asks Florida's new Republican Governor Charlie Crist if there could be a replay in 2008 of the "2000 election fiasco?" Crist believes that his budget recommendation, which calls for $32 million to be spent implementing a "paper trail" system (in actuality, he's called for the replacement of touch-screen systems with paper ballot-based optical-scan systems) will cure Florida's election problems. He also offers up this gem:
The most important thing we can do in democracy is to insure the democratic process and the integrity thereof. We feel very strongly about that in Florida.
However, when Wolf questions Crist about the 18,000 missing votes in "Orlando" from the 2006 election (he meant Sarasota in the still-contested FL-13 U.S. House race), Crist answers that his concern is "going forward." Thus, it seems Florida has felt very strongly about democracy for about three months now (who was running the place before Crist?). Not to be outdone, Wolf "presses" by holding his feet to the fire... asking a softball question...unrelated to Orlando Sarasota, about whether Florida will be "ready" by 2008.
Meanwhile, one would think that Americans would be a little more concerned about getting Florida elections right after experiencing the last six years of Bush. Yet, despite statistical evidence that all but guaranteed her victory in FL-13, Christine Jennings remains on the outside looking in. At least with Al Gore the mountains of evidence that he won Florida did not surface until after the Supreme Court gifted the election to Bush. With Jennings we do not have the luxury of such an excuse and it is inexcusable.
ADDENDUM BY BRAD: Wolf Blitzer is a complete and utter, unmitigated moron of indescribable proportions. Rivaled only in his utter and embarrassing cluelessness by Chris Wallace...And meanwhile, I have to beg for milk money. Amazing.
Kurt Browning, the new Florida Sec. of State, says in the one-minute video clip at right that he's "physically and mentally exhausted from having to defend touch-screen voting systems."
That is, of course, a tremendous victory. Particularly in Florida. Particularly from a previously "ardent supporter of touch-screen voting systems" as he admits in the video.
"If voters don't have confidence in their voting systems, what do they have confidence in?" Browning smartly asks. To which we say, "Kudos!"
His statements dovetail smartly with new FL Republican Governor Charlie Crist's recently announced initiative to replace all DRE/touch-screen sysaskems in Florida with optical-scan, paper-based systems (though not for early voting or disabled voters, but we'll take what we can for now).
Nonetheless, Browning's "exhaustion" is a victory for you and democracy! Congratulations all! Keep up the good work! There are many out there who still need to be exhausted!
Now if we could just get the Democrats and some of their knee-jerk supporters out there to see the same light, perhaps we'd be closer to do the day when we can finally declare: "Touch-Screen Voting - Game Over!"
(Hat-tip Jeannie Dean, both for the video and her tireless work down there in Sarasota!)
Florida's new Republican Governor Charlie Crist, working with Democratic U.S. House Member Robert Wexler, will reportedly be recommending millions of dollars to replace every one of Florida's horrendous touch-screen voting machines with optical-scan systems featuring: A PAPER BALLOT FOR EVERY VOTE CAST!
Gov. Charlie Crist is preparing to recommend that the controversial touch-screen voting machines used in Broward, Palm Beach, and 13 other Florida counties be scrapped and replaced with optical scanners that would count paper ballots.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, said the governor would recommend spending at least $20 million on optical scanners for the 15 counties with touch-screen machines when he presents his proposed budget to the state Legislature on Friday.
Don't be confused by the references to "paper trails" in the linked articles. Optical scan systems use a paper BALLOT, not a "paper trail".
Free at last? Free at last? Thank God Almighty the Sunshine State may be free at last!?
We shall see. But this could be the best news to come down the pike for democracy fans since Woman's Suffrage. We'll be watching. And then, of course, we've got to make certain there are appropriate audits and other measures to ensure the op-scan systems aren't hacked as they were in Leon County, Florida, last December.
But a path is built one stone at a time. And this could be a very big stone. So for tonight, we'll go to sleep, for a change, with a smile on our face...God Bless America.