Lawmakers expected to dig into election problems

election generic.jpg
Posted at 10:08 AM, Nov 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-19 10:08:00-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) -  Florida lawmakers will be asked to tackle how elections are run, after the chaos of this year’s elections led to a federal judge calling the state’s process “the laughingstock of the world.”

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, who will take the reins of the chamber on Tuesday, told reporters Friday that he expects lawmakers to review various aspects of the elections process, from the handling of vote-by-mail ballots to certification dates.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he’s heard from a number of senators about the issue and that he wants to revisit aspects of state elections laws. He pointed to problems beyond the current election cycle, which has included troubled recounts in races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner and three legislative seats. 

The goal, he said, is to keep future elections from “judicial intervention.”

“There is an interest among the members that I’ve talked to --- after this cycle --- to revisit it, and figure out why ballots appear, why they are hard to track, why we have machine recounts that produce a substantially lesser number of votes than originally reported,” Galvano said during a gathering with reporters in his office in advance of a legislative organization session Tuesday. “Those are all issues that are important.”

A spokesman for the House did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson said in a telephone interview Friday that, in addition to looking for ways to improve the vote-by-mail process, any legislative approach to elections should consider uniformity among ballot designs.

The Jacksonville Democrat also said Florida should create a contingent of county elections supervisors to review how other states conduct different aspect of the voting process, with an emphasis on states like Oregon where elections have been conducted exclusively by mail.

“If we’re determining the process, it’s up to us to make this as smooth a process as possible for the voters. That’s who it’s about,” Gibson said. “I believe we can get to that place. I don’t think any member of the Legislature wants our state to look in disarray.”

The comments from Galvano and Gibson came a day after U.S. District Judge Mark Walker expressed exasperation as lawsuits piled up over the Nov. 6 election. He ripped the elections process as he dealt with a case involving Palm Beach County, which was unable to finish a machine recount because of antiquated equipment.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world in election after election and we chose not to fix this,” Walker said. “I get all that. … We’re still going to go to a default where we don’t count every vote.”

Asked about comments --- including by Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump --- regarding elections being stolen and incompetence by county elections supervisors, Galvano said there may not have been much confidence in Florida elections even going into the cycle. The state drew worldwide attention for the 2000 presidential recount.

“We have sort of been painted with that brush since 2000,” Galvano said. “I think they definitely highlight that we have concerns, and you see repeated problems in the South Florida counties. I think by the next election cycle, the voters are going to want to have more in terms of assurance that their votes are going to be properly counted.”   

Without pointing to Broward and Palm Beach counties, Galvano discussed a need to look at how vote-by-mail ballots are handled, from signatures to the chain of command within county supervisors offices.

Another area that Galvano wants reviewed is how recounts are conducted, noting that in Hillsborough County the overall ballot count went down significantly in the machine recount.

The county is a concern for Galvano because Democrat Janet Cruz, the House minority leader, held a narrow lead in her bid to unseat Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, in Senate District 18.

The race went to a manual recount on Thursday after county Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer decided not to submit machine recount numbers due the reduced ballot count. Instead, he refiled earlier unofficial numbers.

“It does raise concern when you see a change in numbers in terms of votes cast,” Galvano said.

According to the county election office, during the recount there were a pair of power outages, along with the impacts of an emergency court hearing, resulting in 846 fewer votes in the machine recount.

Democrats said Friday that Cruz has won the race. But the deadline for counties to complete their manual recounts is noon Sunday. Mark Ard, a spokesman for the state Division of Elections, said election results will be simultaneously posted.