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Top Republican while trying to vote: ‘That’s my signature!’

Orange County Republican Party Chair Charles Hart got a taste of frustration some voters might experience trying to authenticate their identities by signing electronic tablets in polling places.

Hart said that when he tried to sign in Tuesday at a voting station in Windermere, he nearly got rejected, based on a poll worker’s assessment that his signature requesting a ballot didn’t look like, well, his signature.

Now Hart is sending warnings to other voters in Orange County, particularly Republicans: If they run into the same problem, Orange County’s Grand Old Party wants to hear about it and has lawyers ready to get involved if needed.

If the signature on the electronic screen doesn’t look right, voters always get the chance to try again, and so did Hart.

He figured maybe the tilt of the screen messed up his writing. Or maybe the stylus he signed with didn’t press quite right. So he cleared the screen and signed again. Poll workers still weren’t convinced though, he said. He offered his driver’s license, with his signature on it, and a picture of Charles Hart.

“They literally said, ‘I don’t know about this one,'” Hart recalled Tuesday afternoon. “They actually had another lady come over to look. And they were like, ‘Well, can you do it again?’

“I said, ‘No! That’s my signature!'” Hart recalled.

The experience has left him wondering how even a fully trained poll worker might become expert enough in comparing signatures to potentially stop people from voting.

Hart’s signature is pretty distinctive, starting with a swooping “C-h” and ending with an “II” as in “Charles Hart the Second.” He said he has not changed it since high school.

“They kept hemming and hawing, and I said, ‘I want a provisional ballot.’ And at that point they were like, ‘Well, I guess the “C-h” looks the same.'”

So he got to vote.

Shortly afterward, though, Hart began sending out warning messages on social media, with, “URGENT! ATTENTION!”, telling followers what happened to him; and advising that if it happens to them, first they should be tough and demand their rights to vote, and then he wants them to contact the Republican Party.

“I’m urging them to,” Hart said. “Every vote counts.”

“Do not let bureaucrats tell you YOU CANNOT VOTE!” Hart wrote, adding, “do not think it cannot happen to you because it did to me…”

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said disputes over signatures are always possible when someone’s requesting a ballot. But he said they do not come up very often, and certainly no more often with the electronic signature tablets in use in recent years than back in the days of paper-and-pen sign-ins. Cowles said there are several layers of checks that should allow voters to prove themselves, including the photo ID, ultimately leading to the prospect of a provisional ballot if poll workers remain unconvinced.

Cowles expressed concern, though, to hear that Hart had to go through several steps, and said he would look into the incident.

“I’m glad to hear they gave him his ballot; that’s the good news,” Cowles said.

Central Florida seeing high voter turnout for primary elections

Voting rates are “blowing past” previous years’ totals in Central Florida’s Orange and Seminole counties as big early-voting and mail-voting pushes are giving way to solid election day turnouts.

That’s combined with a report from Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner that there appear to be no major issues statewide.

“Today is Florida’s Primary Election and I am pleased to report that all polls are open statewide and voters are currently casting ballots in 5,881 precincts,” Detzner said in a written statement. “Polls are open until 7 p.m. and voters in line at 7 p.m. will be able to cast a ballot. Division of Elections staff are communicating with each county Supervisor of Elections throughout the day and we stand ready to provide any needed assistance.”

In Orange County, the total voter turnout by mid-morning Tuesday had already surpassed the primary turnout of 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, and was about to top the primary voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. It was possibly heading toward 20 percent.

“It’s going well. … We’ve obviously blown past all our numbers of 2014, and we’re now zeroing in on surpassing our 2016 numbers,” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

It was going even better in Seminole County, where Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said he’s looking at a possible 25 percent overall turnout.

“Smooth, so far. … For this election, for a primary election in a gubernatorial year, we’re much higher than before,” Ertel said. “Not close to what we’re going to get in November, but certainly much higher than in other elections we’ve had like this.”

Both counties have grown rapidly so the records of raw numbers for gubernatorial primary voters are falling quickly, and turnout percentages also are swamping recent years. In 2014 Orange County’s primary turnout was 16.1 percent, and in 2016 for the presidential primary it was 18.8. By mid-morning 17.3 percent of the county’s 772,000 voters had cast ballots.

In Seminole, early-voting, mail voting and election day voting all had beaten or were trending to beat previous marks, Ertel said. Overall, by mid-morning, the total turnout already was around 20 percent, compared with 17.9 percent in 2014.

Ertel also noted another trend showing up this year: the county’s slow transformation from a strong Republican area to one far more balanced. In early voting, among about 16,000 votes, there were exactly three more Republican ballots cast than Democratic ballots, he said.

Good weather, so far, is helping turnout statewide.

But, Cowles cautioned, “This is Florida. This is August. What do the thunderstorms have in store this afternoon?”

In Central Florida’s last minute campaigning, Jerry Demings predicting victory

Candidates up at dawn, waving signs on street corners, still planting campaign signs, trying to get through the day to their cheers-or-tears parties tonight.

Primary Election Day.

Orange County could elect a new mayor — and Jerry Demings is predicting a win — and a new chair of the Orange County School Board along with at least four new School Board members, as well as three or four new Orange County commissioners.

Demings’ optimism is matched by confidence from his opponents that Demings won’t get the outright majority of votes he will need to be elected Tuesday. In that scenario, and in similar scenarios for the other multicandidate, nonpartisan races determining Orange County’s leadership, there would be runoff elections on Nov. 6.

This could be the day that U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s congressional career ends, or it could be when his Democratic primary rival former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson finds out the times have moved past when his bombastic personality was embraced by Florida’s 9th Congressional District voters.

It will certainly be the day in which Republicans decide who they want, most likley state Rep. Mike Miller or Scott Sturgill, to send to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congerssional Distirct; who Florida House District 44 Democratic voters in west Orange County want, former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson or activist Melanie Gold, to send against Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski; and who Republican voters want, Mikaela Nix or Stockton Reeves VI, to go up against Democrat Anna Eskamani for the open seat for Florida House District 47.

Also on the line: Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia‘s re-election bid in the east-Orange and north-Brevard counties’ House District 50 against primary challenger George Collins; northeast Brevard County voters’ choice, Henry Parrish or Tyler Sirois, for a Republican to run for state Rep. Tom Goodson‘s old seat in the Republican-rich House District 51.

That’s why candidates such as Orange County School Board chair candidate Nancy Robbinson, who has been on the board since 2008, was making last-minute runs early Tuesday to pick up and distribute more yards signs as last-minute opportunities arose, in her battle with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and educators Robert Prater and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

That’s why Soto is planning an ambitious last-day of campaigning that has 17 stops on his schedule for Tuesday, visiting voting locations in CD 9’s areas in Polk and Osceola counties in a whirlwind of 20-minute visits wih voters, before the day ends with his watch party in Kissimmee.

That’s why he and most other candidates such as Orange County mayoral frontrunner Orange County Sheriff Demings and his opponents Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto were out waving signs and meeting with voters as the sun rose Tuesday.

Demings tipped his cap to voters but also predicted victory.

“We’ve done what we could do to ensure victory today but the people will decide on who will be the next Orange County Mayor,” Demings said. “Based on immediate feedback we’re receiving from the various polling sites, victory is well at hand.”

But Clarke and Panepinto have their own optimism, not necessarily for a win Tuesday, but for at least not losing on Tuesday.

“We’re sure we’re going to still be standing tonight,” Clarke said. “We’re confident we’ll be there for a run-off. We have a lot of good feeling out there. But we shall see.”

Panepinto said the voters he and his campaign are hearing from are filling him with confidence that the large undecided pool showing up in polls until recently is finally engaging and breaking his way, especially after the debates and the controversy this month about school safety resource officers.

“We’ve seen some momentum our way,” Panepinto said. “The nice thing about a democracy is, everybody gets to vote and the scorecard will come out tonight.”

They shall see tonight, as Clarke and his campaign hold their watch party at the Gallery At Mills Park in Orlando’s Mills 50 District, Demings holds his at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center’s Heroes Ballroom, and Panepinto holds his at The Brewstillery in Winter Park.

Among others, Soto’s party is planned for the Ramada Gateway Hotel in Kissimmee. Miller’s is set for Miller’s Ale House on Lee Road in Winter Park. Robbinson’s will be at the LOCAL Bar & Grill in College Park.

Bill Nelson endorses Jerry Demings in Orange mayoral race

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has endorsed Jerry Demings to become Orange County’s next Mayor, Demings campaign announced.

Demings, the Orange County Sheriff, is facing businessman Rob Panepinto and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke in the non-partisan election Tuesday.

“Jerry Demings is a trusted, respected leader who has spent his career keeping the people of Central Florida safe as a Sheriff and as Orlando Police Chief,” Nelson stated in a news release issued by Demings campaign. “During his decades of service, Sheriff Demings has built coalitions to strengthen our community.”

Nelson’s endorsement comes just before Tuesday’s election. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will advance to a Nov. 6 election showdown.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer casts his vote for Gwen Graham

One of Florida’s top mayors officially cast his primary vote Saturday for former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary for Florida governor.

Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s mayor since 2003, appeared with Graham today at a rally in Orlando outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections’ Kaley Street office. He then voted early himself.

“Together, we are going to restore Florida’s public schools, protect our environment and finally pass commonsense gun safety,” Graham said in a statement.

Graham’s campaign announced Dyer’s endorsement yesterday, when Dyer said Graham put particular effort into understanding the needs of the City Beautiful.

“Gwen Graham has spent her life bringing people together to solve problems,” Dyer said. “She has spent a tremendous amount of time here in Orlando over the last year, and she understands how the state of Florida can be a true partner to help Orlando grow into the future.”

Graham called Orlando a model city in the Sunshine State.

“Orlando is a real example of what Florida can be, a place with a growing economy, shared prosperity, and a community open to a diversity of ideas,” Graham said.

“Mayor Dyer has accomplished these goals by bringing together people from different perspectives, forcing compromise to solve problems, while at the same time never backing down from his progressive values. I am honored by his support and eager to work with him to move Florida forward.”

The endorsement also shows the strong support Graham has received so far from some of the biggest Democratic leaders along Florida’s I-4 corridor, an area that has become critical in winning statewide races.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn endorsed Graham earlier this month, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has publicly defended Graham in the face of primary attacks.

(Notably, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry went another way, endorsing Andrew Gillum.)

Graham’s campaign hopes her edge with the endorsement from the state’s most notable mayors will move voters into her camp come Tuesday’s primary.

The support seems particularly impressive as the Democratic primary field this year includes two candidates with experience as mayors of major cities—former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Gillum.

The most recent polls show Graham and Levine running neck and neck, with Gillum enjoying a surge in support in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Former Puerto Rico Gov. Sila María Calderón Serra to join Philip Levine for Orlando tour

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is planning a whirlwind tour of Central Florida’s Puerto Rican communities with the isaland’s former Gov. Sila María Calderón Serra this weekend.

She endorsed Levine Friday in the Democratic gubernatorial primary election, his campaign announced.

That seal of approval adds to the endorsements Levine already has received from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto and Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez.

Calderón served as the eighth Governor of Puerto Rico from 2001 to 2005. Calderón also served as mayor of San Juan, and as Puerto Rico’s secretary of state.

On Saturday she will be joining Levine for three stops in Orlando and Kissimmee on Saturday evening, and one in Kissimmee Sunday morning.

“As a former governor myself, I was upset with the Trump administration’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In a moment of crisis, Mayor Levine demonstrated true leadership, putting together relief efforts immediately and working to support the people of San Juan, and all of Puerto Rico,” Calderón stated in a news release issued by the Levine campaign. “Floridians deserve a compassionate leader like Mayor Levine, with a clear track record of action and a reputation for standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Puerto Ricans have an incredible opportunity to decide this governor’s election, It is important that we stand with Philip in the way he stood with us after Hurricane Maria.”

Levine is courting Central Florida’s robust Puerto Rican community heading toward Tuesday’s primary showdown with Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, and Chris King for the Democratic nomination to run for governor.

On Saturday, Levine and Calderón plan to start with a rally at 11331 Cypress Leaf Dr. at 4:15 p.m. They plan to join a Boricua vota caravana, a political parade, at the El Ponceño Restaurant in Kissimmee by 5:30, and then appear at an early voting center at the Kissimmee Civic Center by 6:30 p.m. On Sunday they will visit the Melao Bakery at 11:30 a.m.

“I’m honored to earn the support of Governor Calderón, a strong public servant who has stood up for what’s right, and has advocated for working people both while in office and after her tenure. As Governor, our state will stand with our Puerto Rican neighbors, strengthen our economic and cultural ties, and ensure that our state is accepting to those who came here after losing everything.”

Anna Eskamani

Meet Anna Eskamani, Democrat running for Florida House District 47

Nearly 350 candidates are vying for state House and state Senate seats in 2018. Try as we will, Florida Politics can’t interview all of them.

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Today’s feature: Anna Eskamani, a Democrat running for Florida House District 47.

Significant other? Kids?

No, very single. Sometimes I feel like I’m marrying the State of Florida. I hope the voters say “I do!”

Education background? Professional background?

I went to Orange County Public Schools, K-12. I then went to the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) for all of my degrees. I hold two BAs, one in Political Science with a focus in International Relations. My second BA is in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Women’s Studies. I also hold an undergraduate certificate in Service Learning. From there I continued my academics while working full time, and completed a dual Master’s Degree program, earning myself a MA in Public Administration and a MA in Nonprofit Management. I also hold a graduate certificate in Gender Studies. Today I am pursuing a PhD in Public Affairs, and am very close to taking my qualifying exams.

My Dad, brother, and twin-sister all went to UCF. We are a family of Knights, and I am forever grateful to this incredible institution.

What was your first job?

My first paid job was a summer at Ross in east Orlando. Before my Mom passed away she worked at K-mart as a department manager and we would help her clean the shelves and put clothes away on the weekends.  

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

I care about people, and Tallahassee is deeply disconnected from the lives of everyday Floridians. It’s time for a change.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

Not really, no. A community Facebook page was launched, encouraging me to run for Orange County Mayor. Some major Democrats threw their weight behind that idea but I felt like my heart and purpose was more in the Florida House. I did meet with former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie (a Republican) for advice, and she also encouraged me to run for the Florida House. I actually sought advice from Democrats, Republicans, and NPAs. I am really lucky to have friends from all political persuasions in my life.

Who do you count on for advice?

My twin sister. She is one of a kind. I like to tell people we are “womb to tomb” but she hates it when I say that.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

Our campaign does not use a general consultant. We instead built our movement from the ground-up. We did use the support of Dave Plotkin and Renata Głębocki of You Should Run to design our logo and website, but our manager is a first-time campaign manager; our team intergenerational and heavily volunteer driven.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

The now retired CEO at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Barbara Zdravecky. She is a warrior, and wanted to be my first donor.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

I admire Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith greatly. He is authentic, bold, does his homework, and focused on doing good for his community each and every day.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

Politicians are too concerned about using poll-tested talking points versus just being themselves. Constituents deserve someone who is authentic and accessible to them. I do my part to always be myself – you know what you get with me, and even if you don’t like it, at least you know where I am coming from, and maybe from that place of honesty we can strive to find common ground.

I am also a very empathetic person. That helps to draw connections with constituents and find common ground.  

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

So many but here are three that instantly come to mind: Enhance the growth of Central Florida’s tech and entrepreneurial community; ensure every person can access a positive educational experience via K-12 and beyond; push to expand access to Medicaid so we can finally close the coverage gap – I have been fighting for this issue since 2013!

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

Driverless vehicles, and especially its impact on public transit. I want the public to be safe and our workers ready for this disrupter.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

We need mental health resources, affordable housing funds, and competitive salaries for our teacher.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

I have a lot of respect for Lawton Chiles.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

People love yard signs and we always love seeing them!

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

My email.

Where do you get your political news?

Why Florida Politics, of course! (Seriously, I’m a long time reader.) I also love visiting my local NPR station and Orlando Sentinel.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

All day, every day. Find us at @AnnaForFlorida on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and of course Facebook My snapchat is @Anna_V_E.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Orlando native, daughter of immigrants, authentic, and unafraid Democrat who cares deeply about people, and has proven herself as a community leader who gets things done.

Hobbies?

I love writing, and dream about publishing my own book of poetry one day.  

Favorite sport and sports team?

I will always cheer for my UCF Knights, and love supporting or women athletic teams when I can.

Buddy Dyer endorses Gwen Graham

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has endorsed Gwen Graham in the governor’s race, her campaign announced Friday.

Dyer, mayor of the City Beautiful for 15 years and with with enough statewide recognition that he was considered a possible strong candidate to run for governor himself this year, matches up well political with Graham’s more moderate Democratic views.

“Here in Orlando, together we have transformed our community by creating an inclusive place, where people from all walks of life have united behind the shared goal of creating opportunities for everyone.” Dyer stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen Graham has spent her life bringing people together to solve problems. She has spent a tremendous amount of time here in Orlando over the last year, and she understands how the state of Florida can be a true partner to help Orlando grow into the future.”

Dyer, the dean of Florida’s big-city mayors, was elected in 2003. He is the longest-serving mayor in Orlando history, and is popular enough that he is in line for what likely will be another easy re-election in 2019.

“We want to make sure our Orlando community has a loud voice in selecting our next governor, and I hope people will join me tomorrow in casting an early ballot for Gwen,” he stated in the release.

The Central Florida Democratic political leaders’ endorsements in the governor’s race have largely been split between Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, with Chris King and Philip Levine each also picking up a couple of key backers.

Dyer is the the biggest available.

Graham also has gotten the backing of state Sens. Victor Torres and Linda Stewart; and state Reps. Amy Mercado and John Cortes, among others. Gillum’s endorsements have included those from State Attorney Aramis Ayala, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla, state Sen. Randolph Bracy, and state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Kamia Brown. King’s most notable Orlando backer is former Orange County Chair Linda Chapin. Levine has Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, plus the mayors of San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico, who have considerable influence in Central Florida’s large Puerto Rican community.

Graham, Gillum, Levine, King, and Jeff Greene have a showdown Tuesday for the Democratic nomination. Orlando, as always, is a key swing area in the election.

“Orlando is a real example of what Florida can be, a place with a growing economy, shared prosperity, and a community open to a diversity of ideas,” Graham stated in the release. “Mayor Dyer has accomplished these goals by bringing together people from different perspectives, forcing compromise to solve problems, while at the same time never backing down from his progressive values. I am honored by his support, and eager to work with him to move Florida forward.”

Democrats’ Florida House Victory backs Brendan Ramirez in HD 30

The Democrats’ Florida House Victory political committee is backing Brendan Ramirez in the three-way Democratic primary to run in House Disrict 30.

The endorsement, from the campaign arm of the Florida House Democrats, comes in a highly-contested primary that includes a sitting city councilwoman from Maitland who’s been campaigning for six months, and a cyber-security expert who’s been running for nine months. Ramirez, of Orlando, entered the race in late June.

Ramirez, who runs a mental health care clinic, faces Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil and Clark Anderson of Winter Park, in a party battle for a shot at Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes.

Anderson expressed mild frustration Friday that the party was weighing in a few days before the primary after, he said, he had received assurances early on that it would treat all candidates fairly. Goff-Marcil’s campaign declined to comment.

It’s not been a good week for either of them; earlier this week a political committee backed by New York billionaire George Soros jumped in, backing Ramirez.

One reason the party might be getting behind Ramirez: an internal poll conducted by Change Research early this month showed Ramirez leading Cortes by seven points.

“Brendan Ramirez understands the importance of expanding health care resources for hard working families,” incoming Florida House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee stated in a news release issued by the Victory Fund. “His record of delivering critical mental health resources to Floridians is needed in Tallahassee.”

Democrats hold a two-point voter registration advantage in the district, which covers south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County. Florida House House Victory stated in the news release that it has identified the seat as one that can be flipped to Democrats.

“I’m thrilled to have earned the support of Florida House Victory,” Ramirez stated in the news release. “I’m committed to fighting for affordable healthcare, housing, and stronger environmental protections for the families of House District 30. Now more than ever, this district deserves someone they can count on.”

Rich Crotty elected Orange County’s Republican state committeeman

Former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty is the new state committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida from Orange County.

The Orange County Republican Executive Committee elected Crotty Thursday night to replace Paul Paulson, who resigned in disgrace last month after a lawsuit settlement revealed that his charity for wounded veterans was a sham charity enriching him.

Crotty, who turns 70 on Aug. 30, served as Orange County Mayor from 2001 to 2011. Before that he had served in the Florida Legislature and as the Orange County Property Appraiser.

His brother Pete Crotty is running for the Orange County Commission District 3 seat in an election set for Tuesday.

Photo courtesy of Frank Torres.

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