Good Tuesday morning.
Investigations — Over the last few weeks and months, voter fraud probes have been initiated in multiple Florida counties, looking at whether dozens of ineligible voters cast votes in the 2020 election. Those who have been flagged appear to be people with felony convictions who remained disqualified from voting even after the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, which lifted the state’s lifetime ban for most felons.
Going through records — The probes were sparked by complaints filed by a Gainesville database researcher who took voter lists and cross-checked them with lists of convicted sex offenders. Mark Glaeser, who has filed complaints about multiple government officials for years, also looked at ineligible people housed in the Alachua County jail.
Still underway — The probes or investigations are in varying stages, with some county supervisors forwarding information to local prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or handing it off to the Department of State. But it appears dozens of potentially illegal voters have been flagged in counties such as Alachua, Duval, Gadsden, Leon and Lake.
In one county — Marion County election supervisor Wesley Wilcox told Playbook that his office looked at two voters, but one person registered in 2018 and never voted. Another voter — whose adjudication occurred in 2018 — had been registered for years and voted in the 2020 primary but not the general election. Wilcox said the second voter has been removed from the rolls.
Confusion? — Amendment 4 passed in 2018, but a subsequent law passed by the Florida Legislature and an ensuing legal battle put some of its implementation into limbo. It wasn’t until October 2020 that the Department of State began to thoroughly look at voter rolls, although election officials told supervisors that past summer they had begun screening for those who had disqualifying sex offenses.
Response from state officials — “As such, it is quite possible that some individuals who voted in the 2020 General Election had not satisfied all legal financial obligations or were otherwise ineligible under the parameters of the restoration of voting rights framework,” said Mallory Morgan, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Laurel Lee. “Eligibility screening continues without ceasing and the Department is hopeful that new FTE positions sought in this year’s budget will assist with this work, which expanded significantly in terms of time and complexity following the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018.”
More response — Morgan added that the department was aware that several counties had received information and noted that they have power to forward complaints to local prosecutors. FDLE, meanwhile, has acknowledged that it investigated — and forwarded a report to local prosecutors — regarding allegations that a former employee with Alachua’s election office registered people at the jail even though some had felony convictions.
Next up — These investigations come as legislators passed a bill that would set up a new elections police unit in the Department of State that would coordinate with FDLE on future voter fraud cases. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the creation of this election crimes office a top priority and is expected to sign the bill into law.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing officially announced for Gov. DeSantis.
THE COUNT: It’s been 18 days since the Florida Legislature approved a new congressional map but it still hasn’t been sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has promised to veto the map.
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JUDGE WALKER SPEAKS — Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker — who is presiding over a legal challenge to last year’s contentious elections bill — expressed his dissatisfaction on Monday that no one has told him (or given him judicial notice, as it is known) whether this year’s election bill (SB 524) could play a role in the lawsuit filed by civil rights and voting rights groups. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the bill shortly before the end of the regular session.
Attention — “This court is currently conducting a two-week jury trial while also working to review the voluminous record and drafting a final order on the merits following the bench trial in this case,” Walker wrote in an order. “Yet no lawyer for any party has alerted the court of imminent changes to the laws at issue before this court—though the parties appeared to have been actively monitoring the latest election legislation as it moved through the Florida Legislature these past several weeks.” Walker then instructed attorneys for both sides to file supplemental briefs by Wednesday.
Here’s what going on — Late in the session, this year’s election bill was changed so that it actually repealed a portion of last year’s law (SB 90) that is now being challenged. The current law requires third-party voter registration groups to give a disclaimer to those registering that their forms may not get turned in on time. This provision was widely criticized during the recent trial by several voting rights groups who asserted it had hindered their efforts and was likely unconstitutional.
Changes — The bill that will soon go to Gov. Ron DeSantis — and that he is expected to sign — replaces the disclaimer requirement with one that would put the warning on voter registration forms. So, in other words, if Walker were to strike down this provision, the state of Florida could turn around and argue that this is now moot. There are other provisions in the new law being challenged but those who kept tabs on the trial considered the disclaimer language the most likely to get tossed.
‘IT’S BEEN TURNED AROUND ON HIM’ — “Normally a master of messaging, Ron DeSantis was outmaneuvered by the three-word catchphrase ‘Don’t Say Gay,’” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “A master political messenger, [Gov. Ron] DeSantis is adept at wielding concise, easy-to-digest phrases, crafted to sound popular and resonate with his political base in Florida — and across the country — as he contemplates a run for president. A side benefit (for him) is frustrating his critics. In recent months, however, he and other Republicans have found themselves in an unfamiliar place: on the political defensive as a result of adept messaging that originated with LGBTQ activists.”
— “Disney postpones management retreat as CEO Bob Chapek continues to account for company’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill response,” by Deadline’s Dade Hayes, Anthony D’Alessandro
‘BIG PAUSE’ — “Greitens allegations spark GOP fears of losing Missouri Senate seat,” by POLITICO’s Natalie Allison and Burgess Everett: Several Republican senators said on Monday that [Eric] Greitens should exit the race, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the new accusations are “pretty disturbing,” calling on Trump to take a “big pause” before endorsing in the race — an eyebrow raising departure from Scott’s normal neutrality. His remarks suggested more concern about Greitens than he had during [Sean] Parnell’s child custody fight in November, when Scott insisted on remaining neutral as Parnell’s wife raised similar allegations under oath.
STEEP CLIMB — “Florida Democrats have uphill 2022 fight, do they have a path to victory?” by Palm Beach Post’s Chris Persaud: “Still, at the outset of 2022, the Democrats’ statewide prospects look dim. Even after passing controversial laws and rules, and supporting unpopular legislation on issues ranging from COVID-19 to abortion and LGBTQ rights, polls show Gov. Ron DeSantis leading his would-be Democratic rivals by big margins. DeSantis leads each of the three Democratic rivals by margins ranging from 8 points to 16 points, according to a Mason-Dixon poll earlier this year. And he counts more than $70 million in his campaign war chest.”
‘WARNING SIGNS’ — “Poll: Hispanics aren’t flocking to the GOP, but Democrats still have problems,” by NBC News’ Marc Caputo: “Chuck Rocha, a Texas-based Democrat who specializes in Latino outreach, said the poll confirms what he has seen nationwide: Republicans aren’t making massive gains. But they don’t need to, Rocha said, because Hispanic voters are a part of the Democratic Party’s base, so the more Republicans eat into Latino margins — even if it’s just a few points — the more it can make a difference in state or congressional races in California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada or Florida, where sizable Latino populations live.”
LOOKING FOR VOTERS AT ORLANDO GAS STATIONS — Republicans sought to register voters at an Orlando gas station this past weekend hoping to tap into frustration at high prices at the pump. The push by the Republican National Committee occurred at gas stations in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. Organizers said that “multiple” Floridians registered as Republicans as the RNC points the finger at President Joe Biden and Democrats for the spike in gas prices. RNC spokeswoman Julia Friedland said the effort shows that “the Republican Party will continue to solidify itself as the party of everyday Americans.”
— “Trump hoards his war chest and Dem donors unleash millions: 5 takeaways from the latest campaign money disclosures,” by POLITICO’s Brittany Gibson and Zach Montellaro
— “‘This is where I belong:’ Trantalis skips run for Congress to stay on as mayor,” by Sun Sentinel’s Susannah Bryan
— “LeAnna Cumber kicks off run for mayor, says it’s time for Jacksonville to ‘get moving,’” by Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein
— “Nikki Fried discusses women in politics, DeSantis-Trump relationship in North Florida Democratic Club talk,” by Florida Politics’ Tristan Wood
HEARINGS START — “Ketanji Brown Jackson pledges independence and neutrality in Supreme Court confirmation hearing,” by Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim, Ann E. Marimow and Aaron C. Davis: “Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday promised she would be an independent jurist who will decide cases “without fear or favor” — emphasizing her neutrality on the bench in hopes of heading off the expected criticism from Republicans that she has been a judicial activist. Jackson, who will be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court if confirmed, spent her official introduction before the Senate Judiciary Committee detailing her approach as a judge, describing it as narrowly focused on resolving the issues before her.”
— “Kavanaugh tensions simmer behind low-key opening to Jackson hearings,” by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Marianne LeVine
SEEKING A CHANGE — “As Haitian migrants try to come to South Florida, officials urge end to COVID immigration policy,” by Sun Sentinel’s Angie DiMichele: “U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, the first Haitian-American Democrat elected to Congress, joined other officials and Haitian advocates Monday to urge the Biden administration to to rescind the federal policy that allows for the expulsion of immigrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy, called Title 42, has been in effect for two years.”
CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?— “DeSantis leaves any special session on property insurance, condos up to lawmakers,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner: “If Florida lawmakers hold a special session to deal with the troubled property insurance market or to put additional requirements on condominium buildings, it won’t come from a directive by Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, appearing Monday in Wellington, said he’d ‘welcome’ the return of lawmakers to Tallahassee to address either of the topics if a special session is called by legislative leaders. ‘If they can get an agreement, they should do it,’ DeSantis replied when asked about calling a special session on either topic.”
— “Gov. DeSantis boosts teacher pay but FL’s average teacher salary lags well behind other states,” by Florida Phoenix’s Danielle J. Brown
THE TOLL — “Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies weigh how to classify coronavirus deaths,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Natalie Weber: “In Florida, COVID accounted for more than three out of every four officer deaths in 2021, according to data from the Officer Down Memorial Page. Coronavirus deaths for law enforcement officers in Florida peaked at 20 fatalities in August, as the delta variant swept the nation and the state hit a record high number of infections. The number of COVID-19 officer deaths that month outnumbered the total number of Florida line-of-duty deaths from all causes in 2020.”
‘Different rules’ — “Yet, despite the virus’ status as the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers over the past two years, Florida agencies do not have a uniform approach to how these fatalities are classified — and whether officers’ surviving relatives will receive line-of-duty death benefits.
A LEGAL MATTER — “Glenn Straub’s lawyers ask judge to hold State Attorney Dave Aronberg in contempt of court,” by Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave: “Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg could be held in contempt of court for attending a press conference in Miami instead of showing up for a deposition in a criminal case that could expose details of his personal life and short-lived marriage. Calling Aronberg’s failure to show up for the March 2 deposition ‘clearly an attempt to obstruct the judicial process,’ attorneys for wealthy Wellington developer Glenn Straub have asked a judge to order Aronberg to answer questions and to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for ignoring the court order.”
GENTLE GIANTS — “Starving manatees will face another rough winter next season,” by Sun Sentinel’s David Fleshler: “Despite efforts to reduce pollution in the Indian River Lagoon, where record numbers of manatees died in the past two years, the sea cows are unlikely to find enough seagrass to get through next winter without help. Proposals to improve water quality and protect seagrass died in the Republican-dominated state Legislature, although lawmakers did budget more money for manatee habitat restoration and rescues.”
— “After 2 shootings, spring break gets curfew and state of emergency in South Beach,” by Miami Herald’s Charles Rabin and Martin Vassolo
— “What’s happening to Pensacola Beach’s famous beach ball? It’s getting a makeover,” by Pensacola News Journal’s Emma Kennedy
— “Migrant surge continues in Florida Keys. More than 50 land over last four days,” by Miami Herald’s Omar Rodríguez Ortiz
— “Male prostitutes and porn on duty: Ex-girlfriend’s tell-all leads to PBSO deputy’s firing,” by CBS 12’s Lenny Cohen: “An extremely bad breakup led to a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy getting into deep trouble. His ex-girlfriend gave a laundry list of allegations to the sheriff’s office, which found he violated policy after policy.”
BIRTHDAYS: Former Gov. Buddy MacKay … Alan Williams, deputy assistant secretary for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and former legislator … Jeffrey Vinik, investor and owner of Tampa Bay Lightning