Jack Latvala Suggests Removal of Elections Supervisors for 2012 Problems
Around the State
In 2003, former Gov. Jeb Bush removed the Broward County supervisor of elections for neglect of duty, incompetence and misfeasance.
The same thing could happen again.
The chairman of the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee suggested a few Florida supervisors face similar prospects after a chaotic 2012 presidential contest that saw long lines, broken tabulating machines, questionable counting, untrained poll workers and delayed totals in select counties.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would not specifically say which county supervisors he believes are the most vulnerable. But he did say they are most likely in South Florida -- South Florida being anything from and including St. Lucie County south.
“All of us remember the governor one time suspended a supervisor for poor performance,” Latvala said after his committee held its first meeting on Tuesday.
“I’m not prepared to say there is an occasion here where that might be merited, but I think that is a question I will be asking in one or two of these cases.”
He added that one of the counties in question, Palm Beach County, is a perpetual poor election performer. Palm Beach has been ground zero for Florida election problems since 2000.
Just this year:
- About 500 faulty absentee ballots were mailed out. They contained duplicates of three amendment questions while omitting another one entirely prior to the general election.
- About 60,000 absentee ballots were sent out that failed to list the merit-retention races of three state Supreme Court justices prior to the general election.
- An error in the county’s electronic-tabulating software resulted in the wrong results in two municipal races in March.
Meanwhile, St. Lucie County -- where U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, questioned how the voting was conducted -- was the only county in Florida to miss both the state-mandated four-day deadline for unofficial results and the 12-day deadline for official results.
Florida Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, pointing to problems St. Lucie County encountered in 2006 and 2010, has vowed she will pursue correcting how the supervisor of elections office reportedly double-counted some ballots and misplaced others in West’s defeat to Democrat Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.
Regardless of the committee recommendation, any removal or suspension would have to come from the governor’s office.
An audit of the St. Lucie County election, undertaken by the state while votes were being rerun through tabulating machines, has yet to be released from the secretary of state’s office.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner told Latvala’s committee his office will begin a week-long review next week of the state’s five counties that had the most problems in the past election: Lee, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward and St. Lucie. Gov. Rick Scott had charged Detzner with investigating the elections.
Each county was singled out for having lines that required voters at times to wait more than four hours. Detzner pointed to the length of the ballots, which in some counties had to be printed in two or three languages and were packed with 11 statewide ballot items, for contributing to delays.
In 2003, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush removed Miriam Oliphant from her post in Broward County following accusations of mishandling the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary, with voters receiving bad ballots and inaccurate registration information. Some polls opened late, other closed early and thousands of votes were not counted until a week after the election.
Bush acted after receiving a report from then-Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, which found that Oliphant's office was "a very disjointed organization” and unprepared to handle future elections.
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, chairman of the House Ethics and Elections subcommittee, wouldn’t go as far as suggesting that removal of a supervisor could be an option.
“I think that is a little beyond my purview at this point. I certainly think those issues can be dealt with if they come up,” Boyd said. “Right now I just want to focus on making the process better and serving the state of Florida better.”
Latvala noted that any recommendations from the committee may begin to appear in mid-February, after hearing from the supervisors and possibly holding hearings in South Florida.
Despite all the focus on elections on Tuesday, Latvala said ethics may get the early priority heading into the 2013 legislative session.
“We might not be able to get both of them done by the beginning of session, because they’re both very big areas,” Latvala said.
“We don’t have an election between now and the first of March, we could probably take a little more time on elections.”
He did say he wasn’t in support of comments from several senators that the state should have powers to step in when they deemed there were problems in a county elections office.
“I’m not inclined to try to micromanage the supervisors of elections from Tallahassee. Maybe there are people up here who are, but I’m not,” Latvala said.
Boyd expressed confidence that there will be time for both ethics and elections to be addressed.
"It's going to be a large task but I think we'll get to it," Boyd said.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.