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18 posts from November 6, 2012

November 06, 2012

Lois Frankel wins a seat in Congress 20 years after first attempt

Not many (any?) Congressional winners can claim this: Democrat Lois Frankel won Tuesday night 20 years after her first bid for Congress.

In 1992, state legislator Frankel lost to Democrat Alcee Hastings. Her earlier loss -- the only one of her career -- allowed her to become Democratic leader in the state House and mayor of West Palm Beach. And Frankel said in an interview Tuesday night that she didn't think she'd end up in Congress again -- but then when former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein decided not to try and get back his seat from U.S. Rep. Allen West, she decided to go for it again.

"I said somebody has got to step up to the plate," she said.

Frankel beat former state house Majority leader Adam Hasner and will represent Congressional 22 in Broward and Palm Beach.



Florida voters reject most ballot amendments

The Florida Legislature loaded up this year's historically long ballot with 11 lengthy and confusing constitutional amendments—only to see voters reject almost all of them.

Eight of the amendments failed to get the requisite 60 percent vote, including a massive property tax overhaul, new abortion restrictions and a "religious freedom" proposal.

The amendments made for long ballots, which clogged precincts and caused voters to wait for hours in some cases. It was the worst outcome for constitutional amendments since 1978, when all nine of the state's proposed amendments failed.

Several groups, including the League of Women Voters, called on Floridians to reject all 11 proposals, which they labeled as misleading and inappropriate.

Read more by Toluse Olorunnipa and Brittany Alana Davis.

Reaction from Florida Supreme Court justices and others on merit retention vote

Via e-mail, we have received statements from all three Florida Supreme Court justices who were up for merit retention votes today, as well as some of their supporters. All are celebrating the results of tonight's election, where voters overwhelming supported keeping R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince on the bench.

Lewis: “The very foundation of Florida’s independent judicial system was threatened in this election. I am grateful that Florida voters once again demonstrated their faith in our fair and impartial judicial system and I extend my thanks and great appreciation to those Floridians who both assisted in the retention effort and those who voted for retention.”

Pariente: “The judicial branch in Florida is one of the most highly regarded in the nation. Florida voters have made it clear that they are determined to keep it that way.  I want to thank the many Floridians who stood up against the attack on the impartiality of our justice system.”

Quince: “Floridians care deeply about ensuring that we have a fair and impartial judiciary untainted by partisan politics.  Tonight, I want to thank Florida voters who renewed their faith in our merit selection and retention system.”

Alex Villalobos, former Republican state senator and president of Democracy at Stake: "The people of Florida have a message for the special interests and politicians seeking to tip the scales of Justice.  Our courts are not for sale. Unfortunately, it is a message we will likely have to deliver over and over again unless we build a more effective firewall to keep big money and politics away from the judicial branch."

Continue reading "Reaction from Florida Supreme Court justices and others on merit retention vote" »

Circuit court judge endorsed by Attorney General Bondi loses her seat

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Josefina Tamayo's bid to remain on the bench proved unsuccessful tonight, and critics say her ties with Attorney General Pam Bondi are partially to blame.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in all six counties that make up the 2nd Judicial Circuit,  challenger Barbara Hobbs had received 54.4 percent of the vote, beating Tamayo by nearly 15,000 votes.

Tamayo, a former prosecutor, was appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 and was seeking her first full six-year term. Bondi, who said she has known Tamayo for 20 years, endorsed her former colleague and even hosted a fundraiser on Tamayo's behalf.

That drew criticism from Hobbs supporters, who said the endorsement crossed the line. They noted that judges on the 2nd Judicial Circuit often hear cases involving the state government, which arguably could involve Bondi. Both Bondi and Tamayo denied that any conflicts existed and defended Bondi's endorsement.

Three Florida Supreme Court justices withstand conservative opposition, remain on bench

Despite an unprecedented campaign against them, three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention easily were returned to the bench.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince withstood opposition from a coalition of conservative groups, including the Republican Party of Florida, Americans for Prosperity and tea party activists.

The active campaigning against the justices increased the profile of this year's merit retention vote. But the outcome was about the same as in other years, will all three justices receiving about two-thirds of the vote, with most votes counted.

They only needed a simple majority to keep their jobs for an additional six years.

"We cannot permit a judicial decision to be based on what may be politically popular," Lewis said Tuesday night. "We are in danger of losing our democracy if we have to become worried about the partisan political views."

Lewis, 64, was appointed to the court in 1999 by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. He was born into a West Virginian coal-mining family and keeps artifacts from the family business on his work desk.

Chiles also appointed Pariente, now 63, to the court in 1997. She made headlines in 2003 when she shared her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer and appeared at oral arguments with a shaved head.

Quince was jointly appointed to the court in 1999 by Chiles and Gov. Jeb Bush. The 64-year-old is the first African-American woman to serve on the seven-member high court.

Read more here.

With neck-and-neck Florida race, let's talk recounts

It's happened before in Florida, so it's worth thinking about again -- what if there's a recount?

Under Florida law, a recount is automatically triggered in any race decided by a margin of one-half of one percent. If 9 million people vote in Florida -- a plausible figure, given reports of heavy turnout around the state -- that means there could be a recount if the presidential vote is decided by 45,000 votes or less.

In a recount, all ballots are submitted again into the tabulating machines to recount the votes. If the recount yields a margin of one-quarter of one percent, the local canvassing boards must then perform another manual recount to examine so-called "undervotes" and "overvotes" -- ballots that recorded no vote for president, or multiple votes for president.

Any recount must be completed within nine days from the day it was ordered by the Secretary of State. However, state law also says any recounts must be completed within 12 days of Election Day.

But, just as in the 2000 recount, there are tensions between the state and federal law: Elections officials still must collect absentee ballots cast overseas for some 10 days after election day. So overseas ballots could trickle in through Nov. 16, with a recount deadline of Nov. 18.

In 2008, more than 97,000 absentee ballots were cast by overseas Florida voters.

For those who have blotted it from their memories: The 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore was decided by just 537 votes in Florida.

Exit polls: Florida too close to call, but Obama has 50-49 edge over Romney

With thousands of Floridians still lined up to vote, the presidential race in the nation’s largest battleground state is as close as can be, according to exit polls showing that President Obama might have an edge.

The president leads Republican Mitt Romney 50 to 49 percent in Florida, according to Edison Research’s exit poll of 4,172 voters. The poll results are tentative and will be updated later in the evening.
Early vote returns for the state have seesawed between Obama and Romney.

Obama’s strength: Liberal Southeast Florida, where early vote returns show the president nursing a double-digit lead, the exit polls and early votes show.

But Obama’s position isn’t solid. His lead in the exit polls is well within the error margin of the poll. And precincts in the Panhandle, a heavily conservative area, just closed at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, when the initial exit polls were released.

Also, the exit polls and the early returns indicate that Obama isn't doing as well as he did in 2008 in Florida, which he won by fewer than 3 percentage points.

If Romney loses Florida, he likely loses his chance of unseating Obama.

Exit polls: Nelson defeats Mack easily

ORLANDO Democrat Bill Nelson strolled easily into re-election for a third term Tuesday, demolishing Republican challenger Connie Mack IV by a wide margin in a bitterly fought and expensive contest.
Nelson, 70, will return to Washington as the only Democrat in statewide office in Florida and with a goal, he said, of breaking the partisan gridlock that has marred progress for the past two years.
“In this toxic atmosphere, you must understand that Connie Mack is my opponent. He is not my enemy,’’ Nelson told an enthusiastic crowd at about 9 p.m. Tuesday. He told supporters he will “try to reach across the asile and build consensus so that we can govern this country.”
His victory comes despite being outspent by his challenger in a $39 million race, the most expensive race of his political career.

Mack, 45, had hoped to unseat Nelson for the job once held by his father Connie Mack III, who retired in 2000 and was replaced by Nelson. But the Fort Myers congressman never could get ahead of Nelson in the polls despite an estimated $22 million spent by Mack and outside political groups.
Mack addressed his supporters at 9:30 and told them that it was “with some sadness tonight that we didn’t win but, I’ll tell you this: I’m very proud of the campaign we ran,’’ he said. “This is not an ending. This is just a beginning.”
Mack’s entry into the race was highly anticipated among Republicans as part of a multi-state strategy to win the four seats needed to retake the U.S. Senate.

Continue reading "Exit polls: Nelson defeats Mack easily" »

In battleground Osceola, voters arrive in a steady stream

Edison Rosendo arrived at the Kissimmee polling place across the street from his apartment complex with a thick book in hand, ready for the long wait.

Instead, the Barry University law school graduate was in and out of the Robert Guevara Community Center in 15 minutes as a steady stream of voters cast their ballots with barely a wait. 

"I voted for Barack Obama, even though I'm unemployed,'' said Rosendo, 27, who is registered with no party affiliation. He has been looking for work since he passed the bar in June, he said, but he voted for Obama because, after researching Romney's agenda, he concluded "he wants to block everything Obama has done and I feel that is not a good way to govern."

Osceola County is the heart of the state's swing region, where the burgeoning Puerto Rican population has converted cow pastures into subdivisions and a one-time stronghold for conservative Republicans into new terrain for conservative Democrats.

Romney, however, has been competitive here as the region's struggles like the rest of the state with stifled employment, even in the backyard of Disney.

"I voted for Romney because Obama has his chance,'' said Denise Calero, 44, an unemployed single mom who was laid off as an inspector at the nearby Lockheed Martin plant a year and a half ago. She and her extended family, all from Puerto Rico, feel the same she said. "The same chance Obama had, Romney should have."

Vilma Figueroa, 54, was voting for the first time in Florida since she moved to Kissimmee a year ago. She arrived at the polls with her father, Conception Figueroa, 81, who has been voting in this country since he moved to New York in 1952. 

"For me, Obama looks more human,'' Figueroa said. "I like him better."


Miami-Dade: an election of wait and wait-nots. So who's to blame?

Miami-Dade, Florida's largest county, has become a place of wait and wait-nots.

In some precincts, voters were in and out in 30 minutes. Lines stretched up to three hours in others. It all depends.

But that wasn't the case at the UTD Towers in downtown Miami where it took voters up to 6.5 hours to cast a ballot. In Hialeah, the wait was about 6 hours for some. At South Kendall Community Church, it took some voters 5 hours.

Voters reported that the problems were largely of a technical or simple nature: The ballot was too long, slowing people down. That, in turn, led people to take longer in their voting booths, leading to longer waits outside. Then, voters had to line up to feed the ballot -- 5 sheets at least -- into the ballot.

It could get worse over the next hour and 15 minutes. People are getting off work now. Many will go vote. Some might not.

"I can't wait any longer," one South Kendall voter said earlier in the day, dropping out of line. That's a lost vote for whomever.

It was worse at UTD. Poll watchers said the precinct was understaffed and poorly organized.

For one, poll workers had trouble finding voters' names in the hard-copy registry because two precincts (and six sub-precincts) were voting at one location.

And of the eight ballot scanners, only two were working, said Manuel E. Iglesias, a volunteer attorney for the Romney campaign. Only two people were able to vote at any one time, he said.

Meanwhile, the line to vote contained more than 400 people and stretched around the perimeter of the property. It took four hours to move 250 voters.

"This is the worst excuse for a precinct I've ever seen," Iglesias said.

So who's to blame?

Perhaps every level of government:

1) The Legislature. In a fit of pique, after the Florida Supreme Court, tossed legislatively designed constitutional amendments off the ballot, the lawmakers decided to print the measures in full on the ballot. And they put 10 of them on the ballot. That takes a while to get through. The Legislature also shortened early voting days in Florida to eight from 14 in 2008, when Democrats flocked to the early vote sites and secured Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

2) Gov. Rick Scott. Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott refused to extend the cumulative early voting hours. They're capped at 96 hours for the early voting period. In 2008, South Florida voters had 120 hours of early voting time. That's a reduction of 20 percent of early voting time in the most-populous region of the state.

3) Miami-Dade County. Officials knew the ballot was long. They knew it would take time. They knew this would be a big election. Yet they didn't have enough scanning machines in some precincts or enough voting booths to handle the volume or both.

This doesn't mean the entire election is a fiasco. But it is for those who decided to actually vote on Election Day, only to lose hours of their lives to long lines that were made by government action or inaction.

Yes, people could have cast absentee ballots. More than 2.1 million did in Florida. But dozens (and perhaps more) reported requesting ballots but never receiving them. Or they received them late. It seems that, whether it's absentee ballots or early voting or Election Day voting, the combined forces of this presidential election are straining aspects of the voting system.

--- with Kathleen McGrory