Brace for a short wait
There won’t be a repeat of Florida’s Election Day debacles that led to 36 days of trying to figure out who actually won the presidency in 2000. But in 2020, voters shouldn’t necessarily expect a winner to be announced on the night of Nov. 3.
So say two veterans of the recount process 20 years ago — Barry Richard, an attorney representing George W. Bush, and Bill Cowles, Orange County supervisor of elections since 1989 — in a Zoom meeting with journalists from around the state.
“While I’ve been asked many times whether I anticipate a repeat of 2000 … the bottom line is, I don’t,” Richard said. “We’ve had four presidential elections since 2000 with no significant, no real problems.”
What Richard does expect is lawsuits, which are already being filed in this election cycle, but the circumstances are different this go-round.
“With one exception, which went largely unnoticed, the challenges (in 2000) were postelection. This time we’ve seen hundreds of challenges around the country preelection,” he said.
The biggest problems then were caused by faulty ballots — the confusing “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County and other punch-card ballots that didn’t reliably count votes — as well as Florida election laws “which had been cobbled together over decades and were largely designed for a local election,” Richard said.
Many of the difficulties have been addressed in the years after the recount ended, said Cowles. “Florida did streamline and go uniform in terms of our procedures and our timelines,” he said. “Part two … happened (when) Gov. (Charlie) Crist moved Florida to all-paper, all-the-time voting. So whether you’re voting by mail, you’re voting at an early voting site or you’re voting on Election Day … the chad machines are gone, the touch screen machines are gone.”
Motivated by concerns about coronavirus and a close and contentious presidential election, many voters are deciding to cast their ballot before Election Day, either by using vote-by-mail or in-person early voting.
That’s positive, said Cowles, because early ballots can be opened and processed and if there is an obstacle, such as a missing signature, an elections supervisor can contact the voter to “cure” the problem and have their vote counted. While all votes, cast in person or vote-by-mail must be in hand by the end of Election Day, there is a two-day grace period afterward when voters can cure their vote or ask for a provisional ballot to be counted. Military votes postmarked on or before Election Day have a 10-day window to arrive.
“Your official results,” Cowles said, “actually come in on November the 15th.”
Although many of us will be watching to see the winners after the polls close, expectations need to be managed, said Charley Olena, associate director of campaigns and partnerships at the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab.
“Our polling shows that voters’ existing expectations for official election results are unrealistic, with many voters expecting official results on election night,” said Olena. “And while we know Florida is well prepared to handle and process vote-by-mail ballots, other states don’t necessarily have the history with voting by mail … And even in Florida, our races are usually tight and counting every vote to verify results … takes some time.”
Richard made an optimistic prediction in 2000 and said his thinking holds true for this year: “We learned … we have a very stable democracy. I remember during the litigation … I was asked by a number of reporters whether I thought either candidate would be able to govern when it was over. And my response was ‘Yes. Monday morning everybody is going to go back to work and we’ll have a President’ — and that’s exactly what happened.
“I think that the biggest lesson is we just need to let the system run out — because it works. Even though Trump has done his best to convince people the system does not have integrity, I think most Americans truly believe that it does, and it will work itself out and we’ll have a President when it’s over.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
DeSantis loosens nursing home rules — After months of strict visitation rules imposed by the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced an easing of restrictions. General visitors may visit with residents in outdoor settings, even at facilities that recently reported COVID-19 infections on-site. Indoor visits still will not be allowed at homes within two weeks of a resident or staff member testing positive. While the DeSantis administration has credited restrictions on assisted living and long-term care facilities with containing the spread of the virus and mortality rates early on, the Governor said he’s grown more worried in the last seven months at the possibility of health problems resulting from long-term isolation from loved ones.
State leaders reviewing pandemic death tally — On the same week Florida surpassed New Jersey in COVID-19-related deaths, the Department of Health said it will more closely scrutinize deaths attributed to the coronavirus. State figures at times have included individuals who died months after testing positive, long after the virus should have cleared from their systems. The state will not backtrack to review those deaths already tallied in official records. But Surgeon General Scott Rivkees implemented an additional review process moving forward “to ensure data integrity.” The move comes at a time there’s increased chatter about the state moving away from daily reporting to semiweekly or weekly.
Deloitte Consulting lands another state contract — While an investigation continues into what led to Deloitte’s $77-million contract for a near-universally maligned unemployment system many believe was designed to discourage claims, the Agency for Health Care Administration is now moving ahead with the firm on an overhaul of the state Medicaid data system. When a contract was awarded to Deloitte months ago, it drew criticism and protests from competing bidders Accenture and IBM. Formal protests, however, were since dropped, clearing the way for a $135-million contract for another database of information on people in dire need of assistance.
New unemployment claims break 100k — Weekly pandemic-related unemployment claims in Florida exceeded 100,000 for the first time in two months this week, the Department of Economic Opportunity reported. There were about 108,000 new unemployment claims in the past week for a total of 4.35 million filings in the state since March. September had seen a steady decline in weekly COVID-19-related jobless claims. Weekly reports fell to about 60,000 new claims in September. But that trend shifted to about 80,000 new claims per week in early October. Numbers still pale to the weeks in April and May when more than a half-million claims could be filed in a week.
AHCA budget comes in light — The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration included in its legislative budget request for the upcoming fiscal year an additional $1.87 billion in state funds to cover increased Medicaid caseloads and expenditures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But AHCA’s budget request for the 2021-2022 fiscal year does not include $77 million in Medicaid cost increases that state economists agreed were necessary and included in the state’s Long-Range Financial Outlook, which was approved by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission in September. The Long Range Financial Outlook is based on forecasts developed by economists and analysts.
— 761,924 FL residents (+22,874 since Oct. 16)
— 9,856 Non-FL residents (+469 since Oct. 16)
— 6,748 Travel related
— 286,647 Contact with a confirmed case
— 7,274 Both
— 461,255 Under investigation
— 47,953 in FL
— 16,544 in FL
Crime Prevention Month
As part of National Crime Prevention Month, Attorney General Ashley Moody offered Floridians several tips to help prevent crime in Sunshine State.
Moody, among other tips, discouraged Floridians from going outside alone after dark and encouraged drivers to park in well-lit public areas.
She also urged Floridians to proactively protect themselves and their community.
“Citizens play an important role in crime prevention — by locking their doors, checking on neighbors and reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement,” Moody said. “Please join me in recognizing October as National Crime Prevention Month and learn more about how you can reduce crime in your community.
Notably, Moody and the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers launched the nation’s first statewide Crime Stoppers tip number in early October
The number, **TIPS (8477), allows mobile callers to directed to the nearest Crime Stoppers Regional Office.
Crime Stoppers allows residents to anonymously report crime tips and suspicious activity.
“Even small, simple actions can help us stop crime and build a Stronger, Safer Florida,” Moody added.
More crime prevention tips from the Attorney General can be found online.
Floridians can also go online to access Moody’s Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute, which offers educational programs geared toward combating crime across the state.
To watch a video introducing Crime Prevention Month, click on the image below:
Take it back
Moody and the Drug Enforcement Agency are urging Floridians to participate in National Drug Take-Back Day.
Notably, the DEA this year will accept vaping products in addition to unused or expired prescriptions.
National Drug Take-Back Day is scheduled Saturday, Oct. 24 at locations across the state.
“It is an honor to join DEA Acting Administrator Tim Shea as we ask all Floridians to help us fight the opioid crisis and youth vaping epidemic threatening our communities,” Moody said. “By safely disposing of unused and expired prescription drugs, we can keep these controlled substances from ending up in the wrong hands — making our state and nation a safer place to live.
Last year, roughly 883,000 pounds of unused or expired prescriptions were turned over to authorities — 36,000 of which came from Florida alone.
In all, the DEA and local law enforcement have collected more than 12.7 million pounds of prescription medication since 2010.
“The initiative — now in its 10th year — addresses a vital public safety and public health issue,” said Shea. “Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse.”
Floridians can learn more about the National Drug Take-Back Day and participating locations online.
To watch a video on Drug Take-Back Day, click on the image below:
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer is opening more COVID-19 testing sites in Hendry County so farmworkers can stay safe entering the fall harvest season.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the additions were the product of a partnership with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and local governments.
“Ensuring farmworkers have access to COVID-19 testing is essential to their health and safety, the well-being of their families, and the security of our food supply,” she said.
The new testing sites are located at Barron Park in LaBelle and at the Hendry County Health Department in Clewiston. Testing will be free for employers, farmworkers, and their families. Testing sites will be open for walk-up services and appointments.
The Hendry County expansion followed the rollout of additional testing sites for farmworkers in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and St. Lucie County.
Fried hinted more sites may be in the hopper: “We will continue working together, engaging with local governments, to provide additional COVID-19 resources based on demand and availability.”
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
University of North Florida Board of Trustees — Gov. DeSantis appointed Christopher Lazzara of Atlantic Beach to the UNF Board of Trustees on Friday. Lazzara, of Atlantic Beach, is the CEO of MountainStar Capital and previously worked as a senior managing partner of Ponte Vedra Management Group. He also currently serves as chair of the Community Outreach Committee of the UNF Student Affairs Council. He is an alumnus of Southern Methodist University.
University of Central Florida Board of Trustees — Also on Friday, DeSantis reappointed Joseph Conte to the UCF Board of Trustees. Conte, of Winter Park, is the retired president and CEO of Consulate Healthcare. He has served on the UCF board since 2015 and is the current chair of the audit and ethics committee and former chair of the advancement committee. Conte earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University and his master of public administration from American University.
Protect the vote
Andrew J. Grogan was appointed this week to serve as the District Election Officer for the Northern District of Florida.
As District Election Officer, Grogan will oversee the District’s handling of voter fraud complaints and other related issues in concern with the Justice Department Headquarters in Washington.
Grogan was appointed by Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud,” Keefe said. “The Department of Justice will always act appropriately to protect the integrity of the election process.”
In an effort to protect public confidence in the General Election, the Department of Justice has made ready local points of contact for officials and voters to report possible fraud or voting rights violations.
Keefe urged Floridians to report any suspicious activity to Grogan, who will be on duty while the polls are open.
“Ensuring free and fair elections depends in large part on the cooperation of the American electorate,” Keefe added. “It is imperative that those who have specific information about discrimination or election fraud make that information available to my Office, the FBI, or the Civil Rights Division.”
Election Day is Nov. 3.
Closing the gap
Over the past six months, the need for progress on closing the digital divide has become abundantly clear.
Countless policy proposals are sure to land in the 2020 Legislative Session, but that’s months away and the students at rural schools such as Tarpon Springs Elementary need help now to stop the achievement gap from growing.
This week, House Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls and Spectrum joined forces to deliver a helping hand, courtesy of a $5,000 check for the school to help its students get the hardware they need to keep their education on track.
“In Florida, we believe in expanding opportunities for students. Without access to a reliable internet connection or a computer, education options are limited. Today’s donation to Tarpon Springs Elementary School will help close achievement gaps by making some new devices available to students and providing for vital training for teachers,” Sprowls said.
“Many thanks to Spectrum for their efforts working with Pinellas County E-Learning to solve internet connectivity and digital learning challenges in their communities. Florida works best when we come together to find solutions.”
Tarpon Springs Elementary School will use the funds to purchase 10 new laptops with cameras and provide 30 teachers with training focused on using Canvas — an online education platform — for extended learning. Teachers will be trained to use activities that allow students who need extra support to catch up with after-hours learning
During his visit to the school this morning, Sprowls joined a first-grade e-learning class where he interacted with about two dozen students through Smartboard technology — highlighting the power of digital learning when students are equipped with the tools and resources they need to succeed.
October is Safe Sleep Awareness Month, a campaign to decrease sleep-related infant deaths, the leading cause of deaths among children less than a year old in Florida.
Joining First Lady Casey DeSantis in the effort are the Department of Children and Families and Prevent Child Abuse Florida.
“As the mother of three young children, including a six-month-old, I understand the worries that many parents and caregivers experience when bringing a new baby home,” DeSantis said. “Creating a safe sleep environment for your children serves as yet another precaution we can all take to keep our babies safe, healthy, and thriving.”
In 2019, at least 69 infants died in Florida from sleep-related incidents. Infants who sleep in adult beds, which carry risk of suffocation and strangulation for young children, are 40 times more likely to die than those who don’t.
“Prioritizing child safety is about more than removing potential hazards from your home,” DCF Secretary Chad Poppell said. “Too often, parents of infants have to suffer with the loss of their precious children due to unsafe sleeping practices.”
The campaign warns against placing anything in a baby’s bed, including stuffed animals, pillows, blankets and bumper pads. Additionally, babies should sleep face up to decrease the risk of suffocation.
“Using an unsafe sleep environment is the No. 1 cause of infant death in Florida. These tragedies are completely preventable. We urge parents to learn safe sleep practices and implement them every time your baby sleeps,” said Chris Lolley of Prevent Child Abuse Florida.
It’s no joke
In the era of school shootings, making a threat at school isn’t a laughing matter. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is hoping to make that clear to K-12 students through a new public awareness campaign.
The “It’s No Joke” campaign aims to dissuade youth from making school threats because doing so can lead to being arrested and charged with a felony.
Notably, the law on school threats doesn’t require the communication to be sent directly to another person. If anyone can see the message — even if they’re made on social media or in video game chats — there are consequences.
“Preventing school threats starts at home,” said DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller. “Our campaign is about educating families on what a school threat is and how serious threatening violence in schools can be, even if it is done as a joke.”
DJJ launched the “It’s No Joke” campaign last year. As part of this awareness campaign, DJJ has created a resource guide to help educate families on the law, responsible social media use, and tips on how to discuss the topic with youth.
Focused on the future
Enterprise Florida, Inc. and the Florida Ports Council will host its first virtual forum on the economic potential of business operations through Florida’s commercial ports.
The “Florida Seaports: Focused on the Future” event will highlight both organizations’ work, the case for maritime cargo trade and action items for engaging in future import-export opportunities.
“We know the impacts to supply chains, domestically and internationally, have been impacted by the pandemic,” said Secretary of Commerce Jamal Sowell, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida. “Having worked at a Florida port myself, I know firsthand they are strategic partners in our efforts to get Florida businesses back on track and producing products here at home for export.”
The event will also cover future plans and goals reflected in the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council’s recently released 2020-2024 Five-Year Seaport Mission Plan. That plan provides a snapshot of Florida ports’ economic impacts, and outlines the goals over that time period.
“Florida’s seaports are focused on supporting Florida families and the growing business community by delivering the goods and services that make our ports such a critical hub for national and international commerce,” said Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “Despite the challenges we face due to the pandemic, our ports will continue to make strategic investments to improve infrastructure and grow trade, ensuring economic growth and benefiting communities across the state.”
Registration is now open for the event scheduled for Nov. 17.
A day without water
The Public Service Commission asked Floridians to “Imagine a Day Without Water” this week.
For the annual and national Value of Water Campaign, PSC took Floridians on a video “Water Walk,” exploring what a day without water would look like in a typical neighborhood.
“On our ‘Water Walk,’ we thought about how often most people take their water and wastewater systems for granted,” said PSC Chair Gary Clark. “We hope our video highlights how water is essential and how important Florida’s water and wastewater utilities are in delivering this most vital resource to consumers and businesses.”
To image a day without water, click on the image below:
Commissioner Julie Brown said people tend to take flowing water for granted.
“Imagine no water to drink or cook with, no water to shower, flush the toilet or do laundry,” she said. “Water is life’s fuel.”
Executive Director Braulio Baez highlighted water’s impacts on education and student athletics. Commissioner Donald Polmann asked people to imagine seeking health services at a medical center without water.
Homes would lack running water, Clark added, emphasizing that fire hydrants would run dry for firefighters.
Longleaf pine protection
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein visited the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever Project last week to highlight the state’s continued conservation efforts.
Located in the Red Hills region of North Tallahassee, the conservation project is an effort to protect Florida’s longleaf pine ecosystems.
“It was an honor to join Secretary Valenstein to visit the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever Project,” Patronis said. “The Florida Forever Project is crucial to conserving natural lands and waterways and renewing Florida’s commitment to conserve the state’s natural and cultural heritage. This partnership has proved to be great for Florida’s economy and the economic impact from longleaf ecosystems provides a great benefit for our state.”
Valenstein called the Florida Forever property an example of coordination between environmental stakeholders to maintain conservation efforts.
“Land conservation has a far-reaching impact on virtually every component of our environment and communities,” Valenstein said. “It is a critical component in our collaborative efforts to ensure our natural resources are protected and remain healthy for generations to come.”
Through Florida Forever, the state has acquired more than 867,000 acres. DeSantis approved $100 million for Florida Forever land acquisition efforts for the current fiscal year.
“Gems like this are the heart of the Florida Forever list and exactly why annual funding for this program is so important,” said Executive Director of Audubon Florida Julie Wraithmell. “Not only do these places protect Florida’s ecology and provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, but they protect our water quality, fight climate change and support the quality of life we expect from this special state.”
Florida has renamed a segment of U.S. Highway 1 in Miami-Dade County after Trooper Luther P. Daniel, the first Florida Highway Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty.
As escapee shot Daniel, who was an FHP officer for six months, during a traffic stop Dec. 5 1941. Daniel was 32 years old and was survived by his wife Florence and son Bill.
“The first Florida Trooper to die in the line of duty, Trooper Daniel was a hero among us — willing to run toward danger to help keep others safe,” Sen. Lauren Book said. “It is my honor to have worked with FHP and the Florida Legislature to ensure the proper recognition of Trooper Daniel and the legacy of service he has left behind.”
Rep. Chuck Brannan sponsored the legislation that helped name the highway segment in Daniel’s honor.
“It was my honor to sponsor this legislation so that we can permanently honor those troopers who have given their lives in defense of all we hold dear,” Brannan said.
Daniel’s son, Bill, who was just 9 years old at the time of his father’s passing — now 88 — was in attendance at the roadway sign dedication ceremony Wednesday in Marathon. FHP members and leadership, along with local officials gathered to pay tribute and unveil the roadway sign in Trooper Daniel’s honor.
“Paying honor to Trooper Daniel by naming a portion of U.S. 1 in his honor is a great tribute,” said Col. Gene Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “I would like to thank the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis for ensuring the sacrifices of our fallen heroes are memorialized.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators have uncovered an international criminal ring engaged in racketeering, money laundering, fraud … and squirrel smuggling.
It all started when a Marion County resident called FWC to complain about a group that had been putting out traps to catch flying squirrels.
Investigators followed the breadcrumbs to the top of the cartel, which was headed up by a Bushnell wildlife dealer who, unfortunately, is not named Pablo Esquirrelbar. He and a half-dozen other suspects have been arrested.
Investigators say the dealer made more than $200,000 from the illegal squirrel trade, with as many as 3,600 critters being trafficked to far-flung places including South Korea through a complicated network of dead drops, car swaps and unwitting exporters.
The ring also took steps to snitch-proof the operation, with each conspirator not knowing the identity of the other suspects. All told, the squirrels had a sticker price of up to $1 million.
To Maj. Grant Burton, the FWC Investigation’s section leader, the case proves “see something, say something” is more than a platitude.
“Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations,” he said.
The public report suspected wildlife-related crimes by calling FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or texting Tip@MyFWC.com.
Tallahassee’s Capital Tiger Bay Club this week announced its new executive board for the upcoming 2020-2022 term.
After 20 years of service, Executive Director Jeff Hendry is stepping down from the position. Jay Revell, president of Revell Media, will replace him.
Gil Ziffer, former city commissioner and former president of the Florida League of Cities moves into the Chairman of the Board position.
Christina Johnson, president of On 3 Public Relations, will now serve as president of the nearly 50-year-old organization.
“As a Capital Tiger Bay Club member for over 20 years, I have always been impressed by the wide range of political and policy issues addressed by local, state, and national voices here in Tallahassee. I am honored to serve as president and look forward to new opportunities and programs to serve our membership,” said Johnson.
Stay tuned for program announcements and board appointments.
‘All About Girls’
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Simone Marstiller is among several high-profile speakers leading events during the Pace Center for Girls’ All About Girls Summit next week.
The annual meeting, turned virtual this year, will address hundreds of girls and girl advocates on social issues girls face, including unconscious bias, confidence and the gender gap. Attendees have a dozen workshops to choose from over the event slated for Thursday and Friday.
Marstiller will moderate a panel of Pace alumni as they discuss the barriers they’ve overcome to find career success in the military, medical field and entrepreneurship.
The convention will also screen Monique Morris’ 2019 documentary “PUSHOUT: The criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” She will also lead a discussion on the current climate for Black and Brown girls in school.
One panel, featuring Harvard Medical School psychologist Dr. Sriya Bhattacharya, will discuss equity and social justice, and how girls can find voices to influence change.
The originally planned in-person event has been scrapped, but the summit will return for 2021.
Some students at Florida State University’s Panama City campus could save a bundle next semester.
A new scholarship launching in the spring will provide tuition-free education for qualified Northwest Florida students either have a combined family and student income under $50,000, or are eligible for Pell Grants. The FSU PC Promise Scholarship will apply to new, returning and transfer students.
“This is a wonderful example of how the people of this community have come together to support our Panama City campus,” FSU President John Thrasher said. “These are challenging times for a lot of folks in this area who are still suffering economic hardships caused by Hurricanes Michael and Sally and as a result of the global pandemic. The PC Promise Scholarship will ease the financial burden for those who want to transform their lives through higher education.”
FSU PC Dean Randy Hanna added, “We talk a lot about the FSU PC Promise and our commitment to student success. With the generous help of our community donors and the support of President Thrasher and Provost (Sally) McRorie, we have made the PC promise that much more powerful. It has always been our belief that financial need should never be a deterrent to higher education.”
The Promise Scholarship was made possible through donations, with the Chapman Family Foundation taking the lead role. Joining them are The St. Joe Community Foundation, Larry and Pam Perry and an anonymous donor.