Calling the state’s current law “illogical” and “bizarre,” a federal judge has ordered the state of Florida to give thousands of voters a chance to make sure their vote-by-mail ballots are counted.
Florida officials on Monday said they would not challenge the decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, Judge Walker, citing the contentious 2000 Florida election in which George W. Bush carried the state over Al Gore by 537 votes, said he needed to act because the current practice was enough of a burden to affect the outcome of an election and “by extension, our country’s future.”
The judge accused Detzner of delaying a hearing on the lawsuit “so that he could use every second available to run out the clock” so there wouldn’t be enough time to address problems raised in the lawsuit. The judge also said [FL Secretary of State] Detzner’s actions amounted to an “undeclared war” on the right to vote in Florida, the largest swing state in the presidential election.
The court ordered Detzner “to issue a directive to the supervisors of elections…to allow mismatched-signature ballots to be cured in precisely the same fashion as currently provided for non-signature ballots.”
The Obama-appointed federal judge also rebuked Detzner for attempting to slow walk his responses in the case, “so that he could use every second available to run out the clock”.
Last week Florida Gov. Rick Scott (a Donald Trump supporter) and Detzner, who is appointed by the governor, faced similar wrath from the same judge, as he ordered the voter registration deadline in the Sunshine State to be extended by one week in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Scott and Detzner had refused to offer the extension, despite Scott’s mandatory order requiring more than 1.5 million residents to be evacuated from their communities over what had been scheduled as the final week for voter registration in the state. In 2012, according to Florida election expert Daniel Smith on one of last week’s BradCasts, more than 100,000 new voters were registered during that same period just before the voter registration deadline.
Election expert Dr. Daniel A. Smith, PhD, President and founder of Election Smith, Inc and University of Florida Research Foundation Professor of Political Sciencejoins us to explain why extending the state’s “arbitrary deadline” is so important, and to detail some of the empirical numbers and many concerns facing voters and would-be voters in the Sunshine State. For example, in 2012, as he notes, during roughly the same period in which this year’s storm sent Floridians scrambling for safety, more than 116,000 new (and disproportionately Democratic-leaning) voters signed up to vote. That, even as many are just now returning home and dealing with flooding and other more pressing concerns in the aftermath of the Matthew.
“We looked at the last five or six days of voter registration prior to that cutoff [in 2012] and the numbers actually jumped out at me. On the last day of voter registration back in 2012 there were at least 64,000 people who registered to vote. On the last day!,” he says. President Obama ending up winning Florida that year by just 73,000 votes.
And what of those who did manage to register and get their form into a mailbox mail before evacuating? “Who knows what happened to that mailbox?,” Smith observes. Those forms “might not even be processed at all, because it’s lost. We don’t know. These individuals will have no recourse if they finally get back online and see that they’re not registered, if that registration application doesn’t get to the Supervisor’s office.”
We cover quite a bit in the conversation, including Gov. Scott’s sorry history of taking extraordinary measures to make both voting and registration more difficult in Florida (remember those ridiculous 6-hour lines for Early Voting in 2012?), the fact that just 117 new voter registration forms have been turned in by the state GOP in the past month, as well as Smith’s take on voter fraud and the likelihood of inappropriately purged voting rolls in Florida and other states around the nation. “When we talk about voter fraud in this country, it’s really not at the retail level of individuals coming into the polls and falsifying their identity and voting twice or maybe three times. That rarely, if ever happens,” he says. “Where we actually do have some concerns is that on the wholesale level, in which it’s usually someone in a Supervisor’s office, a clerk, or someone is — it can be malicious, it can be just accidental – cleaning the records in a way that is not permissible under federal law . We certainly had that in 2012, when it was the directive of the [Florida] Sec. of State’s office to the Supervisors of Elections. First, some 180,000 individuals who they suspected as being ‘non-citizens’, and then ultimately 2,625 individuals who they flagged as being potential non-citizens. Most of those were actually citizens.”
Susan Bucher, Palm Beach County, FL Supervisor of Elections, discusses preparations for late voter registrations following Hurricane Matthew and what she suspects may be record turnout in Early and Election Day voting. She describes yesterday’s court order to extend the registration period until October 18th as “a victory for all Floridians,” and says that, despite the tight deadlines now before early voting begins on October 24th, her county is ready.
“Millennials now outnumber senior citizens and nearly half the voters under 30 are Latino or African-American,” Bucher explains. “And, especially after the last debate, we saw a very large push of citizens out there. There are young people registering voters and bringing us stacks [of registrations] that are a foot deep. People are very anxious about this election. We have 880,000 voters and, let me tell you, I have never seen it so supercharged as I see it now. The last Presidential turnout was 70 percent. We’re setting up for about 80-85 and maybe more.“
Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.org, a non-partisan organization which closely tracks voting and registration systems — and their well-documented vulnerabilities to manipulation — in all 50 states and at the federal level.
As longtime BRAD BLOG readers know well, yes, our voting and registration systems — in every state — remain vulnerable to error and tampering by outsiders and, more directly, election insiders. Because we use computer tabulation systems, it’s often impossible (as with touch-screens) or unlikely (as with op-scans) to know that results accurately reflect voter intent. That alone remains a threat to confidence in our electoral system, no matter how confident many would like voters to be today.
“The challenge we have when we use electronic systems is that some problems that can be introduced into those systems are difficult or impossible to detect,” says Smith. “Evidence-based elections is a really important standard for us to have nationwide. It builds confidence when jurisdictions can demonstrate that votes were counted correctly.”
Smith and I discuss all of that, examine some of the most vulnerable areas (Hello, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada!), and talk about what, if anything, can be done to try and assure that votes will be counted as cast in Election 2016 for President, Congress, the U.S. Senate, state and local contests as well as ballot measures and everything else.