Damning New Report Details Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of those Administering Florida’s Elections – From Statewide Officials to County Election Board Members
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter sent to Secretary of State Ken Detzner (included below), Allied Progress called on the Florida’s top election official to root out those motivated by partisanship and/or racial animus in the administration of the state’s elections. The request follows a months-long investigation into Florida’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report titled, “Something’s Rotten: Florida’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections.”
The report details recent attempts by statewide elected officials, state legislators, and county election boards to make voter registration and voting more difficult in Florida through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters. It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind these efforts and the sometimes racially charged and conspiratorial machinations of local officials entrusted with running impartial and unbiased elections in the Sunshine State.
“Secretary of State Ken Detzner must move swiftly to root out partisanship and racial animus in the administration of Florida’s elections – both at the county election board-level and in his own office. Regardless of how we vote, we all want elections that are free from political tampering,” said Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch. He continued, “The partisan efforts by some Florida politicians to reduce the participation of minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters in our democratic process should worry us all. This report shows in chilling detail how so many of those responsible for administering Florida’s elections are motivated by partisanship and in too many cases, make disturbing racially charged and conspiratorial comments on social media.”
- Florida Imposes Voter Suppression Policies That Disproportionately Affect Minorities: Florida enforces a law that requests voters present a photo ID when casting a ballot. If the photo ID does not have signature on it, voters will be asked to present an additional (non-photo) ID with a signature on it. If a voter fails to present an accepted photo ID, they can cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted if the voter’s signature matches the signature in the voter registration records. Research has found “substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws” such as this.
These Policies Are Driven by Politics and Sometimes Race:
- Governor Rick Scott: Signed HB 1355 in 2011, which heavily cut early voting, limited voter registration drives, and made it harder for voters who had moved between counties to vote. The new early voting schedule was challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was still in effect then. Scott ended up compromising on the number of early voting hours, yet an overall disastrous 2012 election left hundreds of thousands of Floridians unable to vote, and Scott reversed cuts to early voting the following year. Also prior to the 2012 election, Scott faced another voter suppression storm—and another Justice Department fight—after his administration began a controversial effort to purge Florida’s voter rolls of suspected noncitizens. His administration’s list of 182,000 suspected ineligible voters was eventually narrowed to only 2700. After the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 in 2013, Scott rolled out “Project Integrity” with Secretary of State Ken Detzner to again try to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls, though the effort was abandoned after public outcry.
- Secretary of State Ken Detzner: Has aided Governor Scott every step of the way to implement voter suppression policies in Florida. Has gone a step further by actively opposing a bipartisan plan to implement online voter registration, which led to intense criticism across the state. While the previous secretary of state had problems with the accuracy of a proposed voter purge plan, Detzner willingly began implementing Scott’s plan, regardless of the dubious accuracy of the available data. Defended HB 1355 in court against the U.S. Department of Justice, which was suing under the Voting Rights Act. Partly as a result of his opposition to the bipartisan voter registration bill, the Florida Senate refused to confirm him as secretary of state in the 2015 legislative session; Governor Scott had to reappoint him instead.
- State Representative Dennis Baxley: Championed a disastrous voter suppression bill calling it a “substantive cleanup” of Florida’s election code – the law was largely repealed two years later. He was also chief sponsor of the controversial “stand your ground” law that many blame for the death of Trayvon Martin and the only legislator who opposed dropping Florida’s official state song, “The Old Folks at Home,” which refers to African Americans as “’darkies longing for the old plantation’” in the original version.
- State Representative Eric Eisnaugle: Was an outspoken supporter of HB 1355. During a debate of the bill on the House floor, Eisnaugle claimed, “(We have seen) falsifying of hundreds of registrations, including the registration of an actor who was already deceased at the time. In another case, Mickey Mouse was registered to vote.” Eisnaugle also said, “In yet another case, hundreds or thousands…of students were registered to vote without their knowledge after they simply signed a petition, having no idea that their information was then going to be turned around and used to register their names on the voter rolls here in Florida.” PolitiFact rated all three of Eisnaugle’s claims as “False.”
- State Senator Miguel Díaz de la Portilla: Was responsible for introducing the cuts to early voting days into the elections reform bill in the Florida Senate, arguably the most problematic provision in the 2011 bill. To explain his rationale for drastically cutting early voting in his state, he provided only anecdotal evidence from his home county that ended up turning out to be off-base. “Generally, early voting in Miami-Dade County has not been very efficient,” he said. Also proposed a bill that would have given Governor Scott broader power to remove county elections supervisors or put them on probation, which was characterized by critics as “an attempt to scapegoat supervisors for long lines caused mainly by legislators,” such as Díaz de la Portilla himself.
Local Election Administrators Motivated by Partisanship and Sometimes Race:
- Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark: Closed all but three of Pinellas County’s early voting locations in 2008, saying that early voting “does not increase voter turnout,” just “election costs.” Clark’s office had faced criticism four years earlier, when Pinellas County made several election administration mistakes during the 2004 election, including miscalculating thousands of votes on a slot machine ballot initiative and misplacing 280 absentee ballots until it was too late to count them. The Tampa Bay Times, described the errors as “the latest in a series of gaffes made since Clark took over the office.”
- Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan: Advocated for purging the voter rolls in Florida, claiming, “If you don’t then the rolls become polluted and you have folks voting fraudulently. Seems that there are 12.9 million voters in Florida and the estimate is about 9 percent of those records are inaccurate.”
- Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent: Came under fire from civil rights groups in 2012 after proposing a plan to cut nearly 40 percent of the voting precincts in Sarasota County – and in the majority-black Newtown neighborhood from six to just one. Under her leadership, Sarasota County was the only large county in Florida that offered only the minimum number of early voting hours in 2014.
- Hardee County Supervisor of Elections Chet Huddleston: Has posted a number of far-right conspiracy theories on social media. Appears to believe that the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., may have been a hoax by the government, sharing an article from the far-right website TruthAndAction.org headlined, “FBI Publishes Report Stating Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.” He shared a video of a black toddler misbehaving at an arcade, writing that, “If his actions are not changed very soon this kid will end up in jail.” Has posted offensive graphics attacking President Obama, including one that described the President as “a foreign-born socialist who doesn’t have a birth certificate,” while another compared Obama to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-il, and others because of his stance on gun rights.
Florida’s Voter Suppression Groups
- True the Vote & Tampa Fair Vote: True the Vote has been criticized on a national level for focusing its poll watchers and voter registration challenges on minority communities that traditionally vote Democratic. Even its founder acknowledges the motivations behind her group’s effort to fight alleged election fraud: “You don’t need a whole lot of election fraud; you just need a little bit in the right places to swing an election.” True the Vote helped start local voter suppression group, Tampa Vote Fair, before the 2012 election, under the direction of right-wing activist Kimberley Kelley, who was also a member of the Hillsborough County Republican Party Executive Committee. Kelley came up with a list of 1,375 suspected ineligible voters, which after a state investigation revealed no improperly registered voters. An analysis of the list found that 40 percent of the challenged voters were black, compared to 15 percent of Florida’s electorate.
Text of Letter to Secretary of State (PDF Download):
The Honorable Ken Detzner
Florida Secretary of State
R.A. Gray Building
500 South Bronough Street
Tallahassee, FL, 32399-0250
RE: Investigation into Partisanship/Racial Animus in Florida Election Administration
Dear Secretary Detzner,
As Secretary of State you set the tone for how elections should be administered in Florida. County election board members, state legislators, and other statewide elected officials look to your example when considering questions of voter registration and election administration.
That is why we write to you today: in hopes that your office will root out any Florida election official–both at the county election board-level and in your own office–who is motivated by partisanship or racial animus.
Our request comes after a months-long investigation into Florida’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report included with this letter. It details recent attempts by state and local officials to make voter registration and voting more difficult through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters.
It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind many of these efforts and the unfortunately common occurrence of local election officials who should be demonstrating impartiality instead making partisan, racially charged, and/or conspiratorial comments publicly on social media.
Voters must be able to trust that our elections are being administered in a fair and even-handed way by officials committed to neutrality and objectivity.
As Florida’s chief election official and steward of the state’s democratic process, it is your responsibility to hold accountable anyone who does not meet this high standard.
We hope you will rise to the occasion.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
This report is one of several state-based investigations being released by Allied Progress this month.
# # #
To speak with Allied Progress about this release, please contact Lia Weintraub at 860-803-4812 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allied Progress uses hard-hitting research and creative campaigns to hold powerful special interests accountable and empower hardworking Americans.