With Lee stepping down as Florida elections chief, DeSantis names Byrd as secretary of state
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that state Rep. Cord Byrd will replace Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a former circuit judge who helped steer Florida through the 2020 elections and is now stepping down after a little more than three years in her post.
Florida AG asked to investigate suspected fraudulent casino petitions
A letter addressed to Florida’s deputy attorney general requests assistance in investigating claims of elections supervisors from across the state — including Duval County — who say they’ve been sent numerous fraudulent petition forms in support of a constitutional amendment to expand casino gaming.
DeSantis asks secretary of state to investigate Facebook
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Florida’s secretary of state to investigate Facebook on Monday based on a news article that reported the social media company gives preferential treatment to politicians, celebrities, professional athletes and other prominent people.
Federal appeals court refuses to reconsider Florida ballot order ruling
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider a ruling that upheld a decades-old Florida law that determines how candidates are listed on election ballots, nailing down a win for Gov. After that ruling, the plaintiffs asked for a rehearing by the full appeals court. That case concluded that disputes about partisan gerrymandering involved political questions outside the reach of federal courts. They contended, in part, that the panel erred when it decided the ballot-order issue was a political question outside the realm of federal judges. “For decades, federal courts have considered ballot order challenges without expressing any concerns about their ability to adjudicate them,” the petition said.
Judge denies motion to extend Florida’s voter registration
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge has denied a motion to extend voter registration in Florida even though a computer meltdown on the final day of registration might have prevented thousands of potential voters from taking part in November’s presidential election. Yet, Florida has failed to figure out how to run an election properly—a task simpler than rocket science," the judge wrote. Ron DeSantis, providing another opportunity to people who weren't able to submit their voter registrations online before Monday night's deadline. “We’re disappointed that so many Floridians were disenfranchised because of the state’s failure to upkeep the online voter registration system,” Cabrera said. Florida’s online voter registration system serves the state’s 67 counties and became operational in October 2017.
Judge denies motion to extend Florida's voter registration
Ramiro Saez, left, helps his son Lucas Saez, 22, fill out a voter registration form, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state's voter registration deadline after heavy traffic crashed the state's online system and potentially prevented thousands of enrolling to cast ballots in next month's presidential election. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge has denied a motion to extend voter registration in Florida even though a computer meltdown on the final day of registration might have prevented thousands of potential voters from taking part in November’s presidential election. “We’re disappointed that so many Floridians were disenfranchised because of the state’s failure to upkeep the online voter registration system,” Cabrera said. Florida’s online voter registration system serves the state’s 67 counties and became operational in October 2017.
Federal judge weighs Florida’s voter registration deadline
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge pointedly asked why the state of Florida on Thursday could not further extend its voter registration period after a computer meltdown earlier in the week might have prevented thousands of potential voters from taking part in November’s presidential election. Florida’s chief information officer said Wednesday that misconfigured computer servers — not a cyberattack — were to blame for the crash of the state’s voter registration system as the deadline approached for enrolling to cast ballots in next month’s presidential election. The state countered that extending voter registration again would create confusion, arguing that a further extension could also interfere with county elections offices around the state as they process vote-by-mail ballots and administer early voting. In the last seven hours of Monday, only about 8,100 people successfully registered to vote, requested new voter registration cards or made changes to their existing voter information. Indeed, state officials said there were about 49,000 people trying to access the system at the peak of the slowdown.
FDLE, election officials hold election training exercise
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state’s election supervisors held a training exercise Wednesday morning to prepare for a wide range of scenarios heading into Election Day. In a statement released through a spokesperson, Secretary of State Laurel Lee confirmed that elections officials and FDLE, among other law enforcement agencies, discussed potential disruptions to the November election. “Participants provided input regarding scenarios that Supervisors of Elections may experience leading up to and during Election Day, including acts of violence, mail disruptions, and polling place disturbances,” Lee said. The goal of the exercise was to anticipate and come up with solutions for those scenarios. “These meetings are important so that we and our partners are prepared and ready for any situations we may face that could affect Florida’s election process,” the secretary of state said.
Server configuration caused Florida voter registration crash
Secretary of State Laurel Lee issued a statement late Tuesday saying it does not appear that bad actors caused Monday's collapse of registration system. Monday's trouble with the voter registration website stoked concern, but there was relief that the cause was far less sinister. Its site would send Floridians to the state’s registration website. The statewide voter registration system, which serves Florida’s 67 counties, went online in October 2017. “The online voter registration site failed because it was designed to fail,” Holder said.
Future of Florida’s Confederate general statue remains undecided
Lawmakers later decided to use a statue of educator and civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune to represent the state. On July 7, Lake County commissioners reversed support they had given a year earlier to the Lake County Historical Society and Museum to house the Smith statute in the historic courthouse in Tavares. County commissioners said the anticipated arrival of the Smith statue in Lake County created divisions. The board argued that when Smith was born, Lake County was part of St. Johns County, which includes St. Augustine. The Smith statue has served as one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall since 1922.
New Woodward book raises Florida election security concerns
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A soon to be published book by author Bob Woodward, who found fame after reporting on the Watergate scandal, named St. Lucie as the second Florida county that was supposedly hacked by Russians in 2016. The book, “Rage,” is re-igniting concerns over election security in Florida. “There have been problems that have been identified, and there’s been a response to that,” said Mark Earley, Election Supervisor for Leon County. While the election is just under two months away, mail ballots go out in two weeks, on Sept. 24. Adner Marcelin with the NAACP said it’s also important to track your mail ballot after returning it.
Poll workers help voters prevent the spread of virus
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At precincts across Florida on Tuesday, keeping people voters and poll workers safe from the potential spread of coronavirus was a priority. At precincts visited by News4Jax during the day, there was no trouble social distancing as there were few lines or crowds. “Supervisors have taken health precautions to keep others and election workers and safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Lee said. Spacing – Voting booths will be spaced to complement our social distancing efforts. Social distancing reminders – All voters will be encouraged to stay mindful of social distancing guidelines.
State, advocacy group reach deal on blind voters
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A deal finalized over the weekend will allow blind voters to fill out ballots secretly at home, putting an end to a broader legal tangle over Floridas vote-by-mail processes. The deal, finalized Sunday by the Florida Council of the Blind and Secretary of State Laurel Lee, will require five counties -- Miami-Dade, Nassau, Orange, Pinellas and Volusia -- to implement a program allowing blind and print-impaired voters to fill out ballots online. The plaintiffs sought to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to elections supervisors and wanted free postage for absentee ballots. They also challenged a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots. For example, the states top elections official will be required to educate supervisors about pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots.
Secretary of State defends Florida Governors election order
Instead of more time to send out and count mail ballots, and more days of early voting, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said Gov. Ron DeSantis dealt with the underlying problem supervisors were trying to solve a lack of poll workers and polling places. By using state workers and encouraging state workers to serve, we have a new field of potential election workers. During a speech to the Economic Club of Florida, Lee sought to distance Florida from claims coming from President Donald Trump about the security of mail voting. The state now has five full-time cyber specialists working to protect the statewide voting infrastructure.
Groups ask judge to clear way for vote-by-mail fight in Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Accusing Florida officials of ignoring the harsh reality of the pandemic, left-leaning groups are asking a federal judge to move forward with legal challenges to state vote-by-mail restrictions. In one of the lawsuits, Priorities USA and other plaintiffs want the judge to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned and require free postage for the ballots. Theyre also challenging a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots. Under current law, supervisors of elections must receive mail-in ballots by 7 p.m. on Election Day. that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.
State and federal officials relentlessly' securing elections
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State and federal officials announced Friday they are "relentlessly" working together to protect election systems in Florida from on-going foreign interference. They should also be aware of the strength of the partnership between the state and federal agencies, Lee added. The state recently completed its own cybersecurity review, following disclosures of Russian hacking during the 2016 elections. Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones, the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said Friday that, while all 67 counties are better prepared than in 2016, the state and federal support is "a tremendous help." Lee said in the coming weeks her department and her national counterparts will also release a public education campaign on how to recognize and trust reliable election information.
Questions remain after felons' voting rights ruling
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee has sent a memo to county elections supervisors with direction about complying with a federal judge's ruling on felons' voting rights -- but questions remain about how the state will move forward. The Legislature this spring passed a law to carry out the amendment, but the law drew federal court challenges because it requires felons to pay "legal financial obligations," such as restitution, fines and fees, to get their rights restored. Hinkle disputed the characterization of a poll tax, but his ruling said Florida cannot deny the right to vote to felons who have served their sentences and are "genuinely unable" to pay legal financial obligations. Until Florida establishes this process, all other returning citizens who owe legal financial obligations are left waiting." Justices are slated to hear arguments Nov. 6, and Hinkle's ruling left resolution of that issue to the state court.
Florida mum on election system patches
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A cybersecurity review has been completed of state and county elections systems following disclosures of Russian hacking during the 2016 elections. "This is a very real threat for Florida," Lee said during an appearance at an annual Associated Press pre-session gathering for reporters and editors. "We do not want our process to result in a delay to any petition gatherers who wish to register," Lee said Tuesday. "We simply didn't anticipate the number of petition gatherers who would be attempting to register on the site," Lee said. The law, in part, requires organizations to pay petitioners by the hour, rather than by signatures collected, and for petition gatherers to register with the state.
Technical woes creating more hurdles for Florida ballot initiatives
The new rules were widely opposed by those who have worked to put petition-driven initiatives on the ballot, people like Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters. "The petition process is important, and we are doing everything in our means to ensure the process continues as smoothly as possible," Secretary of State Laurel Lee said. "The Department of State is aware that there are operational issues with the Division of Elections Paid Petition Circulator website. We do not have any reason to believe that these operational issues are the result of external system intrusions." Grant said in addition to the website, he's concerned that some people might be deliberately disobeying the registration requirements.
Felons' voting fight ratchets up at state Supreme Court
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In a bundle of competing briefs filed with the state Supreme Court, Florida officials squared off this week against supporters of a constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Voting rights advocates and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit shortly after DeSantis signed the law (SB 7066) designed to implement the amendment. The law requires felons to pay "legal financial obligations," such as restitution, fines and fees, to be eligible to have voting rights restored. But under Florida law, "sentencing is synonymous with punishment: a sentence is the means by which punishment is imposed," the lawyers wrote. But lawyers representing the Republican-controlled Florida House argued that fines and restitution are examples of non-imprisonment sentences under Florida law.
Judge refuses to issue stay in felons' voting case
Jason Morrison/FreeImages.comTALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A federal judge in Tallahassee has turned down Gov. Ron DeSantis' request to put on hold a challenge to a new state law carrying out a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. The Republican governor and Secretary of State Laurel Lee this week asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to put the federal lawsuit on hold while the Florida Supreme Court considers a related case. The plaintiffs in the case allege the state law imposes an unconstitutional "poll tax" and violates a number of other constitutional rights. The state court is slated to hear arguments in the case on Nov. 6.
DeSantis seeks to put felons' voting lawsuit on hold
Ron DeSantis and his administration want a federal judge to put on hold a challenge to a state law carrying out a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. The Republican governor and Secretary of State Laurel Lee on Tuesday asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to put the federal lawsuit on hold until the Florida Supreme Court rules in a related case. Voting rights advocates and civil rights groups filed the federal challenge shortly after DeSantis signed into law a measure (SB 7066) that requires felons to pay "legal financial obligations," such as restitution, fines and fees, to be eligible to have their voting rights restored. The terms of sentence include financial obligations ordered by courts, the defendants maintain. If the amendment requires payment of financial obligations, that provision "can easily be severed" from the remainder of the amendment, the lawyers wrote.
House Democrats seek long-shot special session on gun violence
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida House Democrats say theyve rounded up more than enough support to require votes from both Republican-dominated chambers of the Legislature to determine if there is any appetite for a special session dealing with gun violence. President Galvano does not support calling a special session, Senate President Bill Galvanos spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email, when asked about the Democrats' move on Tuesday. While Im sure this request for special session is sincere and well intentioned, we must always strive to do something right rather than just do something. Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate failed to give the request for the special session the required support. In 2013, Democrats also failed to drum up the support needed for a special session on the state's "stand your ground self-defense law.
Felons' rights lawsuit timing debated as elections loom
But plaintiffs say they need more time to gather evidence in their challenge to a state law requiring people convicted of felonies to pay legal financial obligations before they can register to vote. The law, passed during this springs legislative session, is aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights to felons who have completed the terms of their sentences. Voting-rights groups and civil-rights advocates allege the linkage between finances and voting rights amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax, a vestige of Jim Crow-era policies aimed at preventing blacks from voting. But backers of the measure estimate that it affects more than 1 million potential voters who lost their voting rights after being convicted of felonies. Unfortunately, the demographic breakdown of those who lose their voting rights shows obvious racial disparities and income inequality, Jacquet, who is black, said in a prepared statement announcing the filing of the legislation.
How Florida is preparing for threat of Russian hacking in 2020 election
However, the state of Florida is taking action to prevent attacks on its own. Two Florida counties were hacked during the 2016 election, although no votes were changed. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee introduced a group of Department of State employees to a training seminar on cybersecurity Thursday. The secretary said the training is part of the comprehensive approach the state is taking to prevent any breaches in the 2020 election. A total of $5.1 million has so far been made available for the 2020 election.
No additional remains found at Dozier school
MARIANNA, Fla. - No additional human remains were discovered as forensic experts completed a review of 27 sites around a shuttered Northwest Florida reform school where the remains of more than 50 people were unearthed in 2015. More than 500 former Dozier students have alleged brutal beatings, mental abuse and sexual abuse at the school, which closed in 2011 after 111 years of operation. In 2017, the Florida House and Senate passed resolutions formally apologizing for the abuse of juveniles sent to Dozier and a related facility in Okeechobee. The resolutions acknowledged that treatment of boys sent to the facilities was cruel, unjust and "a violation of human decency." Secretary of State Laurel Lee said in a statement that her department is committed to seeing the entirety of the investigation through.News Service of Florida
Wrangling continues in ballot signatures lawsuit
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A new state law may have resolved issues at the heart of a federal lawsuit about mismatched ballot signatures, but the legal wrangling hasnt ended. National and state Democrats, who filed the legal challenge last year, asked Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to dismiss the case after Gov. Its the second time the federal judge has had to weigh in on the process for handling mismatched ballot signatures. In 2016, Democrats filed a similar lawsuit, challenging signature-matching requirements for vote-by-mail ballots. Walker called the state law indefensible and said it threatened to disenfranchise voters.
Elections law targeted over early voting sites
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Part of a new elections law that requires sufficient nonpermitted parking at early voting sites will create an unconstitutional burden on young voters attending colleges or universities, plaintiffs in a long-running dispute over campus early voting argued in documents filed Monday. Rick Scotts administration, which decided that certain campus buildings did not meet statutory guidelines for early voting sites. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in July 2018 ruled that the interpretation was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction allowing campus early voting locations. In the November elections, that resulted in early voting on 11 campuses, with about 60,000 ballots cast, according to court records. The parking requirement also will have a negative impact on early voting sites in urban areas where parking is scarce, the lawyers argued.