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3 posts from July 10, 2013

July 10, 2013

Miami-Dade should take steps to thwart absentee-ballot fraudsters, advisory group says


Members of a group advising Miami-Dade on how to improve its elections want the county to try get ahead of the curve of fraudsters who have attempted to manipulate the system by submitting phantom absentee-ballot requests online.

“Folks are always going to try to figure out weaknesses in the system in order to sway it to their advantage,” County Commissioner Dennis Moss, one of the group’s members, said at a meeting Wednesday.

The elections department, he said, should work proactively to foresee where would-be computer hackers might try to attack next.

They have already attempted one scheme: submitting thousands of phony ballot requests online for unsuspecting voters. More than 2,500 such requests were flagged by the department last summer because they originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses.

An investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office prompted by a Miami Herald article that revealed that some of those IP addresses could be traced locally has engulfed the campaign of Congressman Joe Garcia. The Miami Democrat fired his former chief of staff after the chief admitted to Garcia that he coordinated the submission of nearly 500 fraudulent ballot requests.

More here.

Matt Gaetz raises $252,000 in sprint for Senate seat

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, raised $252,000 over seven weeks in his bid to succeed his father, Don, the Senate president, in a Panhandle Senate seat. Gaetz's fast and formidable out-of-the-gate showing may help explain why Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, decided to end his campaign for the same seat after raising $2,800 in the past three months.

Most of young Gaetz's money is from local supporters in Northwest Florida, not Tallahassee insiders. But he did get $2,500 from an Orlando-area network of injury clinics, $2,000 from the HCA hospital chain and $1,500 from private prison builder Geo Group and two company execs. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon, now a lobbyist, and his wife Ellen each gave Gaetz $500 as did Bradenton real estate investor and former Senate president John McKay and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The younger Gaetz, dubbed "Baby Gaetz" by Tallahassee lobbyists, is running for a seat that might not be open until 2016. That's when Don Gaetz's term would expire, and he has said he "intends" to fill out his term. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Senate president to make the awkward transition to being just another senator after residing in the presidential suite for two years. The last one who did it, Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie, had a change of heart and resigned his seat on the last day of the 2009 session.

Joking about having a son in the Legislature, Don Gaetz told a crowd at a campaign appearance for Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday that when people ask, "What has Gaetz gone and done now? There's a 50-50 chance it ain't me."

Matt Gaetz, speaking at the same event, displayed his father's knack for feisty rhetoric. "A lot of times we have to take second fiddle to those folks in South Florida," he said in Graceville. "But whenever we pick a fight with them we know we're going to win, because we've got all the guns, and we're a better shot than they are."

-- Steve Bousquet 




Brandes will seek broader privacy protections in 2014

Citing two recent cases in which Floridians' personal privacy was violated, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says he will file legislation in the 2014 session to expand personal privacy. 

Brandes noted recent breaches in which confidential student records and personal information on a prescription drug database were released, saying they have underscored the need for legislation to increase oversight of personal information given to third parties, as well as requiring extensive disclosure of warrantless data acquisition by the state from third parties. 

"Personal information is being given to third parties for many reasons and this information often lacks comprehensive protection under the law," Brandes said in a news release.

The first-term Pinellas senator has made civil liberties a priority. He filed a bill in the 2013 session that would have required police to obtain a search warrant before searching the contents of portable devices such as cell phones following an arrest. Florida sheriffs mounted an aggressive effort in opposition to the bill (SB 846) but the state Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring search warrants in such cases in the case of Smallwood v. State.

-- Steve Bousquet