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Florida will hand over some voting information to commission

The administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that it would hand over some voter information being sought by President Donald Trump‘s commission investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 election.

But Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by the Republican governor, wrote a letter to the vice chair of the commission saying that the state will only hand over information that is already considered a public record. This would include the names of voters, as well as information on whether they had voted in recent elections.

Detzner said in his letter that Florida law prohibits the state from turning over driver license information or Social Security numbers. He also said they would not turn over the names of voters whose information is currently confidential, such as judges, prosecutors or police officers.

“We are glad to continue following Florida’s public records law by providing the requested information to you that is publicly available,” Detzner wrote to Kris Kobach, the current Secretary of State from Kansas who is on the commission.

Detzner did add, however, that “the responsibility for the accuracy and fairness of our election process in Florida lies on us, not with the federal government in Washington.”

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked election officials across the country last week for voter information, including names, political party affiliation and voter history. The request included asking for the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers and any information on voters convicted of felony crimes.

The effort has triggered pushback across the country, including lawsuits, by critics who contend that the commission was created based on false claims of fraud. Trump, who created the commission through executive order in May, lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton but has alleged without evidence that up to 5 million people voted illegally.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are refusing to comply, while many others plan to provide the limited information that is public under their laws.

Democratic politicians in Florida had called on Scott – who has been a strong supporter of fellow Republican Trump – to reject the request from the commission.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, the leader of the Senate Democrats, said in a letter to Scott that turning over the voter information was a “blatant invasion of privacy and federal overreach.”

“It also begs the question of why this data is being sought in the first place, and whether voter suppression may be the ultimate goal,” wrote Braynon, whose letter was signed by other Senate Democrats.

Florida maintains a statewide voter database where a good deal of information is already public such as the names and addresses of most voters and their voter history, which shows when they voted, but not who they voted for. News organizations, political consultants and political parties routinely make public records requests for the information.

Detzner said in his letter to Kobach that the public portion of the database does not capture information on felonies.

But the state does routinely search to see if someone who is registered to vote has been convicted of a crime. That information is sent to local election officials, who have the ultimate decision on whether to remove someone from the voter rolls. Florida is one of a handful of states that does not allow former convicts to vote unless their rights have been restored by the state.

During his first term as governor, Scott came under fire for his push to trim the voter rolls of non-U.S. citizens. An initial voter purge initiated ahead of the 2012 elections found some ineligible voters, but it also wrongly identified U.S. citizens.

Eyeing gubernatorial bid, Phil Levine’s political committee raises $2 million in June

With Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine traveling the state to speak with Floridians about the state’s direction and how to best position Florida for the future, his political committee, All About Florida raised $1.7 million in June.

A nearly $2 million boost brings the total for his political committee to about $4 million. Officials with the Levine campaign were quick to note that this number is double what officially announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has raised so far.

The Mayor — a Democrat and close friend of former President Bill Clinton — remains noncommittal about entering the Governor’s race and has even floated the idea of running as an independent.

“There’s one assumption that you made there — that somehow if I ran for Governor I would be a Democratic governor,” Levine told a Tampa Tiger Bay audience in May. “Too much is about Democrat and Republican. It needs to be about the people; maybe possibly it’s time we do something different.”

Right now, much of Levine’s time is being taken up by his listening tour, funded by All About Florida. If he should run for Governor, however, Levine — worth about $100 million as a cruise ship industry executive — told the Miami Herald in March he is “100 percent” open to the idea of self-funding a campaign, much like Rick Scott, Florida’s current chief executive.

“Mayor Levine is focused on traveling the state to talk with Floridians who are eager to see fresh leadership with a record of getting things done,” said Christian Ulvert, an adviser to Levin. “As he continues to hear from Floridians, Mayor Levine is more committed than ever to ensure Florida is best positioned to be the future state and June is proof positive that his message is being well received.”

Levine closed the month by hosting the largest-ever U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach where record attendance brought mayors from across the country to discuss important issues like infrastructure investments, local control, climate change, living minimum wage and health care.

While financial information for June has not been released yet by other candidates, GOP front-runner Adam Putnam is widely expected to lead the fundraising race among announced candidates for governor, with an estimated $15 million between his campaign account and his Florida First committee.

Jeremy Ring joins Dems’ calls that Rick Scott not release voter rolls to Donald Trump

Democratic state financial officer candidate Jeremy Ring has joined the call from most other Florida Democrats in urging the administration of Gov. Rick Scott to refuse the request from the administration of President Donald Trump to release state voter rolls to a federal commission.

Ring contended that the governor’s “number one job is to protect Floridians” and that the privacy of millions of Floridians is at risk.

“As a candidate for chief financial officer, as a Floridian, and — above all — as an American, I am strongly opposed to the Administration’s request, and frankly downright offended at Gov. Scott’s refusal to immediately reject and condemn it,” Ring stated in a news release.

In the week since the Trump administration made its request for detailed information on all voters from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to be shared with his Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity, the backlash has come from Republicans and Democrats alike nationwide. In Florida, however, the objections have come chiefly from Democrats, including all three gubernatorial candidates, the Florida Democratic Party, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and top Democrats in the Florida Legislature urging Scott and Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to reject the request. Scott and Detzner have yet to respond.

Ring is a former state senator from Broward County. As such, he helped establish the Florida Agency for State Technology, which handles sensitive data on Florida residents.

“The governor’s number one job is to protect Floridians and yet he sits idly by while the Trump Administration seeks to breach the privacy of millions of Floridians and potentially shatter one of the foundations of our democracy — the privacy of the vote,” Ring stated. “Where is Rick Scott to protect Floridians? Instead of leading, Gov. Scott has sat back while 41 other states — led by both Republicans and Democrats — have outright rejected the Administration’s request. I join these states in their opposition to the Administration’s request.”

Florida Democrats to Ken Detzner: Reject Trump administration’s request for private information of Florida voters

Florida is one of less than a handful of states that has yet to respond to the Trump administration’s election integrity commission’s request to provide extensive amounts of voter information. But before it can, several Florida Democrat lawmakers are calling on Secretary of State Ken Detzner to reject the request.

Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity, sent a letter to all 50 states last Wednesday requesting extensive voter data files, including registrants’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas.

The request came months after President Donald Trump claimed, without evidence, that millions of people have voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. While some states have complied, many others, especially those with Democratic governors, have vehemently objected.

In their letter, the Florida Democrat leaders call the commission “a total sham,” and say the whole exercise is “fearmongering at its worst and a direct attack on the integrity of our electoral process by our nation’s highest officeholder.”

“The false claim of widespread voter fraud has been universally debunked countless times,” writes Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, Senate Leader Oscar Braynon, Senate Leader-Designate Jeff Clemens, House Leader Janet Cruz and House Leader-Designate Kionne McGhee. “It is outrageous for the President to abuse his bully pulpit to spread such an egregious lie. By propagating this absurd claim, Donald Trump is severely undercutting the credibility of our democracy—to the citizens of this nation and to the members of the international community.

In addition, the Florida League of Women Voters sent a letter to Detzner Wednesday night, also calling on him to reject Kobach’s request. The Florida LWV contends that some of the information being request is shielded under Florida law, specifically listing the statute regarding social security numbers.

Earlier this week, Florida’s senior Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson, chimed in as well, dismissing the request as “ridiculous,”and saying, “give us your personally identifiable voters information that is not public, and we’re going to put it in a centrally registered point that is unsecured? It’s just an open invitation to North Korea, the Russians, China and non-state actors to come in and get that information.”

The Rick Scott administration has said little in the past week about the request. A spokesperson for the state department said earlier this week that they had received Kobach’s letter, and were “reviewing it.”

Read the letter in full below:

Dear Mr. Secretary,

Over the past week, top election officials from around the country—Democrat and Republican—have rejected requests for sensitive voter data from Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission.

This commission is a total sham. Donald Trump’s assertion that 3 to 5 million votes were cast illegally is an outright lie. This is fearmongering at its worst and a direct attack on the integrity of our electoral process by our nation’s highest officeholder.

The false claim of widespread voter fraud has been universally debunked countless times.  For making this claim, Donald Trump is either massively ignorant and ill-advised, or this is a thinly-veiled attempt at justifying national voter suppression tactics—we believe it is likely a combination of the two.

This request is voluntary and many states have already refused to turn over their citizens’ data. We remind you that complying with this request may put voters at risk of identity theft, encroach federal rights to privacy, and violate the Federal Voting Rights Act in addition to the Florida Constitution.

There are certainly issues in our electoral system that should be addressed—foreign attempts to influence our elections come to mind most immediately.

It is outrageous for the President to abuse his bully pulpit to spread such an egregious lie. By propagating this absurd claim, Donald Trump is severely undercutting the credibility of our democracy—to the citizens of this nation and to the members of the international community.

We strongly urge our state government to show good judgement and reject Donald Trump’s request for the private information of Florida voters. To entertain the notion of massive voter fraud—where there is none— is to put our democracy in jeopardy. We trust that the administration will put politics aside in this instance and do the right thing.

Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens calls out Rick Scott for attempt to pack Supreme Court

In one of his first public statements since he announced his candidacy last month, Democratic Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens says he’s strongly opposed to Rick Scott’s attempt to replace three members of the Florida Supreme Court on his last day of office in 2019.

“In 2014, Florida voters had an opportunity to approve a constitutional amendment which would have permitted this practice and our voters rejected it,” Torrens said. “Governor Scott needs to respect the wishes of Florida voters and permit our new governor to appoint the replacement justices. After all, a newly-elected governor better reflects the will of the people rather than a governor elected four years ago.”

That constitutional amendment cited by Torrens not only failed to get the 60 percent support necessary for passage but lost outright by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. However, Scott continues to say that after finishing his second term in January of 2019, he will name the the successors to the three justices who are scheduled to leave office on the same day as he does.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are scheduled to retire because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Jan. 8, 2019 — the same day a new Governor will be sworn in the replace Scott. They also make up a part of the Florida Supreme Court’s liberal majority.

Two voting rights groups – the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause – filed a petition last month requesting that the Florida Supreme Court Governor Scott from appointing the justices’ replacements.

“I encourage the Florida Supreme Court to affirm the will of the voters and to find that this appointment power rests with the newly-elected governor, not the outgoing governor,”said Torrens, who is also calling on Attorney General Pam Bondi to take a stand on Scott’s attempt to “pack our Supreme Court.”

“We should rise above partisan politics and respect the wishes of our voters,” the University of Tampa graduate says.

“When I am your attorney general, I will always fight for our people over entrenched special interests, even if that means standing up to our governor,” said Torrens.

The 32-year-old Odessa based attorney has just recently announced his candidacy attorney general, the first Democrat to do so.

Former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville area state Representative Jay Fant have filed to run in the Republican race for AG.

In new ad, Republicans attempt to tie Bill Nelson to Elizabeth Warren’s single-payer health care plan

Although Bill Nelson has never talked about supporting single-payer health care, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign (NRSC) is going after him in a new digital ad running in Florida tying him to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who recently has come out in support of such a proposal.

Citing Warren’s recent comments about getting behind a single-payer plan, the ad’s narrator says such a system “would be absolutely devastating for Florida families and businesses.” Next, the ad notes that Nelson “has followed Warren in near-lockstep in the Senate, voting with his good friend 90 percent of the time. Will he also support Warren’s socialized health care plan?”

The ad then notes that Nelson “has followed Warren in near-lockstep in the Senate, voting with his good friend 90 percent of the time,” before asking: “Will he also support Warren’s socialized health care plan?”

Nelson has never supported single-payer, however. In fact, he said in Tampa earlier this week that his goal would be for the Republicans and Democrats to come together to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act. He is opposed to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the legislation.

“What we ought to be doing is fixing the existing law, instead of repealing it,” Nelson said, adding that the partisan politics in Washington when it comes to health care is a “sad commentary, but that is what we’re facing.”

“Bill Nelson and Elizabeth Warren are two peas in a pod, but Florida families can’t afford a $32 trillion health care boondoggle,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Floridians deserve to know if Bill is going to sacrifice their well-being to support Elizabeth Warren and her extreme government-run health care plan.”

Warren told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that it’s time for Democrats to campaign on single-payer in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” Warren said Tuesday. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

The NRSC wants to take down Nelson, one of 23 Democrats in the Senate up for reelection next year, and he is certainly considered vulnerable, particularly if Gov. Rick Scott and his tens of millions of dollars enter the race to challenge him.

Speaking to reporters in Tampa earlier this week, Nelson said he looked forward to the challenge. 

“I like the contrast because there’s a lot of contrast between his positions and mine and even our styles,” Nelson said.

Watch the ad below:

 

 

 

 

Miami judge: New stand-your-ground law is unconstitutional

A judge ruled Monday that Florida’s lawmakers overstepped their authority in updating the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

In ruling the law unconstitutional, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said Monday that the changes should have been crafted by the Florida Supreme Court instead of by the Legislature.

The Miami Herald reports that the 14-page order is a victory for prosecutors who have firmly opposed the law. Critics have said the law makes it easier for defendants to get away with murder and other violent crimes.

The Legislature modified the 2005 statute and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in June. The bill was backed by the National Rifle Association.

The controversial law has long been criticized for fostering a shoot-first mentality, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force in responding to an apparent threat. Prosecutors said the law made it easier for judges to dismiss criminal charges if they believe someone acted in self-defense.

The Herald reports that in Miami-Dade County, judges have tossed out several high-profile murder cases after pre-trial immunity hearings. But they’ve also allowed others to go to a jury. Now, the new law requires prosecutors to shoulder the burden of disproving a self-defense claim. State attorneys have said that essentially forces them to unfairly try a case twice, making it easier for criminals to escape justice.

Under the law, prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that someone wasn’t acting in self-defense.

The judge’s ruling likely will lead to legal wrangling in the appellate courts and the Florida Supreme Court. Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, told The Associated Press they would appeal the order.

Scott spokesman John Tupps also said the governor’s office is reviewing the judge’s ruling.

The 2012 killing in Florida of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Bill Nelson calls Kris Kobach’s voter roll data request ‘ridiculous’

Add Bill Nelson to the growing list of Democratic and Republican Party officials who don’t think much of the request from President Donald Trump‘s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to hand over “publicly available voter roll data.”

“This is the most ridiculous mandate back on the states that I’ve ever heard,” the Florida Democrat told reporters Monday afternoon.

Nelson had just concluded a meeting with residents urging him to continue to fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

“Give us your personally identifiable voters information that is not public, and we’re going to put it in a centrally registered point that is unsecured?” Nelson said in disgust. “It’s just an open invitation to North Korea, the Russians, China and non-state actors to come in and get that information.”

Democratic governors and elected officials nationwide pushed back hard last week, saying they wouldn’t comply with the commission’s request, asking each state for its set of voter data: Names, addresses, dates of birth, voting history, party registration, military service and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

Neither Florida Gov. Rick Scott nor Secretary of State Ken Detzner has publicly commented on the request.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who serves as vice chair of Trump’s new voter integrity commission, says the information he seeks is basic, publicly available information.

“It’s idiotic,” Kobach recently told The Washington Times. “These states make the information available to the public, but they don’t want a presidential commission to take a serious look at it? That makes no sense at all.”

Charles Stewart III, an MIT political scientist, wrote Monday in POLITICO that the commission’s requests have opened up a whole series of questions: How will the database be housed and protected? Will the resulting national voter file be subject to federal FOIA requests? Will those requests be granted based on state or federal laws? Will the match lists that are produced be public documents?

Nelson said that the U.S. and the rest of the world already have enough to contend with concerning the integrity of the vote, particularly when it comes to Russian interference.

“We’ve got enough trouble with the Russians for what they did to us, what they’re planning to do to us in ’18 and again in 2020 in a presidential election, what they did in France, what they’ve done in Ukraine, what they are now doing to do in the German election,” he said.

Three Democrats running for Florida governor in 2018 — Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — have each condemned the request.

“While states certainly should not tolerate voter fraud, Kobach’s request for voters’ personal information isn’t based on any confirmed reports of such fraud,” King said in a statement. “Of the more than 130 million votes cast during the 2016 presidential election, there were only four documented cases of voter fraud. Kobach’s request for voter information is a waste of taxpayer money and an attempt to purge voter rolls and suppress voter turnout where no problem of vote fraud exists.”

“Kobach’s request for voter information is a waste of taxpayer money and an attempt to purge voter rolls and suppress voter turnout where no problem of vote fraud exists.”

An official with the Scott administration said on Monday that they are still considering the proposal.

“We have received the letter. We are reviewing it,” Director of Communications Sarah Revell told CNN.

Nelson also answered questions about Scott, the Republican he may face next year when he runs for another six-year Senate term, his fourth since being elected in 2000.

“I like the contrast because there’s a lot of contrast between his positions and mine and even our styles,” Nelson said.

Scott has yet to formally announce his candidacy, and said he’s in no hurry to make an announcement about his future. With seemingly unlimited financial resources and solid name recognition, Scott is probably one politician who can afford to wait.

While Nelson conceded he won’t be able to match Scott in fundraising, he is eliciting more campaign contributions from social media and online requests than ever before. Nelson also sounded extremely confident in his chances.

“The American people and especially Floridians are very smart, and they can usually sniff out who is the one who is really dedicated and has a heart for public service. and that’s why they have rewarded me election after election for many years,” he said. “And I’m very grateful for that.”

“And I suspect in November of 2018 it’s going to turn out that same way.”

Florida set to resume executions after 18-month hiatus

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is set to resume executions after a hiatus of more than 18 months after the U.S. Supreme Court found Florida’s death sentencing procedure was flawed because it allowed judges to reach a different conclusion from juries.

Scott rescheduled the execution of Mark Asay for Aug. 24.

Asay was originally scheduled to be executed on March 17, 2016, for the 1987 murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in Jacksonville.

The execution was put on hold after the U.S. Supreme Court found the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional.

The Legislature has since twice changed the law, most recently this year when it required a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty.

Asay would be the 24th person executed since Scott took office in 2011.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida undecided on request from voter fraud commission

Florida officials say they are considering a request for voter information from President Donald Trump‘s commission investigating alleged voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said he has not seen the letter that had been sent to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Wednesday. But a spokeswoman for Detzner said the agency was reviewing the request.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked election officials across the country for voter information, including names, political party affiliation and voter history. The request included asking for the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.

Democratic officials in some states say they will not comply with the request because it’s based on false fraud accusations. Trump has claimed – without evidence – that between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally last year.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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