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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What should Florida do to assure fair, accurate and fraud-free elections?
Frank Bentayou
Florida has a history of conflict over fairness, accuracy and allegations of fraud in presidential elections going back to the year 2000. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to suspend a ballot recount and rule George W. Bush the state winner. Since then, the state has roiled with debate about who is permitted to vote, when and under what stipulations. Results include that voters now have less time in advance of election day to vote than in the past, must show picture identification and confront more burdens in submitting absentee ballots. The balance point in this fierce argument is between limiting fraud and discouraging legal voters.
Robert Brandon
President, Fair Elections Legal Network

Voting is the most fundamental right in our democracy. By voting, we join our family and friends in helping to strengthen our community. It is the one time we are all equal – regardless of our age or wealth – to have an equal say and it is our responsibility to exercise that right to vote. In return, the government has a responsibility to make our voting system  fair, accurate, and to make sure that all eligible votes are counted.

The 2000 election recount put doubts in the minds of Florida voters, as well as voters across the country, about our voting system. With the news of hanging chads and voter purges just before the election that mistakenly removed thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls, there was mistrust in how we conducted our elections. Fortunately, Florida lawmakers and lawmakers around the country began passing laws to improve election administration.

Florida, along with other states, passed laws to allow in-person early voting and no-excuse absentee voting to ease lines and reduce problems on Election Day. Additionally, for many years, Florida led the nation by allowing voters to update their voter registration at the polls on Election Day if they moved anywhere within the state. This was incredibility helpful as many voters do not remember to update their voter registration when they move until it’s too late.

Recently, however, Florida lawmakers have rolled back many of the positive steps the state has taken since the 2000 election. They have reduced the number of early voting days, including the Sunday before Election Day, a day in past elections known as “Souls to the Polls” that saw a large number of churchgoers voting. Lawmakers also stopped allowing voters to update their registration on Election Day if they moved outside of the county they were originally registered to vote and attempted to severely limit voter registration drives by groups like the League of Women Voters through strict laws that made it almost impossible to register voters. Fortunately, parts of the voter registration restrictions were blocked in court.

Election officials have one of the greatest responsibilities in our democracy in assuring that our elections are fair and accurate and that all eligible voters have a chance to vote. Instead of making voting harder as Florida lawmakers have recently tried to do, they should make accessing the right to vote more convenient by restoring statewide registration rules and expanded early voting options. They could also add new reforms such as  online voter registration that has been found to save money in processing voter registration forms, is more accurate because it reduces clerical errors, makes updating voter registration easier, and increases voter registration. As the world’s leading democracy, we should continue to find ways to modernize our elections to ensure that all eligible Americans that want to, can vote.         

Susan Pynchon
Founder, Executive Director, Florida Fair Elections Coalition

Florida elections are in a state of disrepair that would shock most citizens. The Legislature needs to take a hard look at actual problems and abandon its concern about created issues, including that of non-citizens' voting, which has been shown to be a red herring. Of real concern is the disenfranchisement of legitimate voters. Egregious voter identification laws and questionable voter purges are part of the problem but only the tip of the iceberg.

* Both political parties in Florida aggressively advocate absentee voting, but the New York Times said in an Oct. 6 headline: “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises,” reporting what we have been saying for years: Voting by mail is a bad choice since thousands of absentee ballots are discarded each election for a variety of reasons. Beyond that, absentee ballots are vulnerable to fraud. Florida needs to eliminate “no-excuse” absentee voting.

* Florida’s electronic voting systems that count paper ballots are prone to error and subject to fraud. There are hundreds of examples, including the March election in Palm Beach County where a software flaw flipped the votes and named the wrong winners in two local races. Other voting machines, used by almost half of Florida voters, are threatened with possible national de-certification because of failures and errors. The Florida Department of State and Division of Elections have sought to obscure these problems to avoid embarrassment instead of facing them forthrightly. Our voting systems should have to earn federal as well as state certification, and all 67 counties should use similar systems to assure uniformity and enable better oversight.

* Full manual recounts of ballots ended here in 2005 and are not allowed even in the closest of races and even if the machines have malfunctioned. The law now permits only the hand recounting of undervoted and overvoted ballots, a completely inadequate response. The Florida Legislature should re-institute full manual recounts when needed. Furthermore, Florida’s current post-election audits are statistically meaningless and are done after election certification. The Legislature needs to require meaningful audits in every county after every election with significant manual counts and utilization of the audit logs produced by the voting systems. The resulting data should be used to improve administrative procedures, address voting system problems and refine election laws.

The election picture in Florida desperately needs attention. The Orlando Sentinel reported on July 29 that Jim Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (now awaiting trial on money laundering and fraud charges), swore in a deposition this year that GOP consultants held meetings where they "talked about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting." In Osceola County, the average precinct size ranges from 500 to 3,000 voters, but a precinct newly created in 2012 crams more than 15,000 predominantly Hispanic voters into one polling place with only 81 parking spaces – almost guaranteeing chaos and Hispanic-voter disenfranchisement come election day. 

Clearly, Florida needs a better system of checks and balances to ensure that each county is following election “best practices” to meet the needs of a modern democracy. And counties need more support from the state when they encounter problems. We believe that county supervisors of elections should be non-partisan civil servants rather than elected officials and should be shielded from political pressures and retribution. These are just a few of the many changes needed to improve Florida elections.

Deirdre Macnab
President of The League of Women Voters of Florida (www.BeReadyToVote.org)

They say if you don't know your history, you are doomed to repeat it. We at the League of Women Voters of Florida know our history— and we believe there must be an antidote for perpetual electoral dysfunction.

Somehow, here we are again, on the eve of a presidential election, and observers are deeply concerned that once again Florida may be a poster child for confusion, just as we were in the 2000 election. How can we avoid this path of missteps?

Here is a brief prescription for Florida so it can finally recover from electoral dysfunction.

The Legislature must act responsibly. For the past few years, the Legislature has rebuffed ideas from elected county supervisors of elections and citizen voter-watchdog groups. Instead, our lawmakers have devised new ways to make it harder for citizens to register and to vote. Legislators have passed laws, many of which have been thrown out by the courts, that very simply will make it harder for all Floridians on election day this year.

House Bill 1355 should be an example of such legislation. It reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to 8, imposed onerous burdens on groups like the League of Women Voters who help people register to vote and eliminated the ability of voters to change their address at the polling place if they have moved from one county to another. Can anything be done?

The legislature should repeal this law and restore to 14 the early-voting days that so many Floridians have taken advantage of. Lawmakers also should eliminate the unnecessary provisional ballot for those who move between counties but have not changed their registration before Election Day. These two changes would go a long way toward helping to encourage greater voter participation.

Florida voters, too, need to do their part. They should remember to double-check and update their registration. It is very easy and can be done by visiting www.BeReadyToVote.org. Voters should also know and take advantage of the fact that there are four ways to vote: They may receive ballots and vote any time starting right now at their county election supervisors’ offices, vote early at particular early-voting sites(starting October 27th), vote by mail (there is still time to request a mail-in ballot), or cast their ballots the traditional way on election day, Tuesday, November 6th.

We need the Secretary of State’s help, too. Secretary Ken Detzner can help encourage voting by letting election supervisors do their job of maintaining their voter databases without last-minute interference. Most recently, the supervisors received an order to use a qualified-voter list that the Secretary then rescinded, telling supervisors that the list was "out of date and obsolete.” The Secretary of State can also encourage a more flexible approach to early voting sites, so that early voting is not so spread out across our large counties. The far-apart sites are too often difficult for Florida students and others with limited transportation options to reach.

Thank goodness Floridians are starting to understand what a pivotal role they play in presidential election-year decisions. We have seen a last-minute surge of new registrations. Now our challenge is to get citizens ready, informed and motivated to get out there and make their important voices heard!

The League encourages all citizens to visit www.BeReadyToVote.org to update voter registration and get informed on candidates and issues, with the League of Women Voters’ easy-to- use nonpartisan Voter and Election Guide.

Ken Detzner
Florida Secretary of State

The Florida Department of State communications director said Secretary Detzner did not have "enough time to prepare an apparopriate submission" to Florida Voices, so we have drawn from a June 19, 2012, official letter  to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano requesting access to federal immigration records in order to purge non-U.S. citizens from Florida's voting rolls:

"The Florida Department of State has an obligation under both state and federal law to protect the integrity of the electoral process by identifying ineligible registered voters and otherwise ensuring the accuracy of Florida's voter registration system. In the Spring of 2011, the department was informed that Florida' s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles maintains a record of citizenship/immigration-status information for individuals who have obtained a state driver license or identification card. The State Department believed such legal-status information could be helpful in identifying non-citizens who have registered to vote.

"The State Department worked with Motor Vehicles Department to identify potential non-citizens who were registered to vote by identifying records common to a drivers and vehicle database and the Florida Voter Registration System. The matching criteria used for this initial, automated match were exact match on a driver's license number; exact match on a nine-digit social security number; or exact match on a driver's license number. 

"Motor Vehicle’s automated match process identified about 11 million common records, of which approximately 180,000 were identified as potential non-citizens.

"The State Department then began manually reviewing each automated match. The two-step process involves a verification of both identity and legal status. First, we verify that the registered voter is the same person as the driver licensee by reviewing the name and date of birth under the driver's license and/or social security number, along with a review of other common fields such as address and signature comparison. Identification must be verified on a minimum of three secondary match criteria (first/last name, date of birth, and driver's license number and/or social security number).

"Only a record that is verified as to both identity and non-citizen legal status is deemed a "potential ineligibility" match, valid for subsequent determination and possible removal by county Supervisors of Elections.

"The department soon recognized that a limitation in the process was outdated citizenship­status information in Motor Vehicle records. To obtain the most current and reliable information on a person's citizenship status, narrow the list of potential non-citizens on Florida' s voter rolls and ensure that those who have become citizens would not be inconvenienced, the State Department would need direct access to U.S. Department of Homeland Security data."

In July, the Homeland Security department granted access to the requested information, and Florida has been checking its list of suspected non-citizens registered to vote. The State Department's intent is to purge non-U.S. citizens from voter rolls. 


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FloridaVoices User Comments

No Mr. Brandon, those voter purges just before the 2000 election did not mistakenly remove thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls. They intentionally removed thousands of eligible voters from the voter rolls. These were predominately African American voters, a group that was deemed likely to vote Democratic.