Scrutinizing Elections Supers: Give Gov. Rick Scott Credit
Around the State
Florida elections supervisors can object all they want. The fact is, Gov. Rick Scott's survey and subsequent ranking of the state's 67 elections officials was an act of leadership. And a good one at that.
It shed a long-overdue light on the importance of an office taken for granted by too many Floridians. (Have a look at the supervisor rankings in the "Supervisor of Elections Survey, 2012" attachment below.)
Florida is, after all, the "butterfly ballot state." People haven't forgotten the 2000 presidential election, nor should they. World opinion of what we know about voting machines already makes our elections supers so small they might as well sleep in a matchbox.
Supervisors of elections across the state, nevertheless, are crying foul. We are duly elected constitutional officers and don't work for the governor, they say. Even House Democratic Policy Chairman Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg got into the act last week: "Governor Scott still hasn't figured out that there are limits to his authority."
No, he hasn't. Which is what I particularly like about Rick Scott. He doesn't care about all that. He's still enough of a Tallahassee outsider to ignore the barriers between the executive office he's got and all kinds of constitutionally gray or forbidden turf -- and do the right thing. He isn't trying to change the law, he's turning Floridians' attention to issues long neglected or too vital to overlook.
He stepped on toes and colored outside the lines in October, remember, when he challenged the liberal arts crowd on the veracity of degrees that aren't working in the 21st century workplace.
Scott is a governor who gets involved wherever he sees something out of whack -- doesn't matter if it's the water management districts, the public school system, higher education or the supervisors of elections. That's not interference, it's leadership. It's a governor using his bully pulpit to start a conversation or initiate change.
Scott isn't the first governor to look for accountability in elections supervisors. Jeb Bush turned up the heat on these folks 10 years ago. In 2003 Bush suspended Broward County elections super Miriam Oliphant from office for "... grave neglect, mismanagement and incompetence."
Before the governor hooked her out of her chair, Democrat Oliphant had gone $1 million over budget and replaced qualified staff with a stable of unqualified and incompetent close friends and relatives. And let's not forget, after President George W. Bush was elected in 2000, authorities found that Oliphant had hidden thousands of military absentee ballots, knowing a high percentage of them were Republican. Weeks after the election, she had an office worker throw out boxes of the ballots when he noticed that they had never been counted.
Bush later pushed for legislation that would allow the state to tell local supervisors how to do their job. Scott hasn't done that yet, but as proactive as he is, don't rule it out.
Last November Scott removed Madison County Supervisor of Elections Jada Woods Williams from office. He ultimately appointed Thomas "Tommy" Hardee to take her place. Williams, a Democrat elected in 2006, necessarily caught Scott's attention after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested and charged her and seven others in connection with voter fraud that allegedly allowed her friend, Abra Hill "Tina" Johnson, to win a runoff election in the Panhandle county of nearly 20,000.
Madison may need to look closely at its new elections supervisor, because Hardee received one of the three lowest scores in the supervisors' ranking.
So, too, might star-crossed Palm Beach County. Palm Beach is the supervisor of elections home of Theresa ("Madam Butterfly") LaPore. LaPore was followed by Arthur Anderson, who in 2006 left a whole election off the ballot. In 2008, along came Susan Bucher, whose reign has been a little like Chinese water torture. Election after election, Bucher somehow manages to make news for being last or near last to report election night results; for being dead last in processing absentee ballots; for finding 500 unopened absentee ballots in a box at the election tabulation center in Riviera Beach a week after the election; and for crediting Palm Beach County with an absurd, whopping 99.89 percent voter turnout on the state website after the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary.
It wasn't much of a surprise to find Bucher with Hardee, down at the bottom of the survey rankings. As expected, though, Bucher blew off the results. She told The Palm Beach Post's Dara Kam, "We are independently elected constitutional officers. Our report card comes from our voters."
She's right. Her report card does come from the voters. Which is why the survey from the governor's office is so valuable.
Incidentally, in spite of the supervisors' protestations, it isn't the governor's office that released the survey and rankings to the public. In fact, the survey isn't even on the governor's website yet. It was released by the elections supervisors themselves, to Steve Bousquet of The Tampa Times. "The governor promised he would look at the supervisors' concerns before he posts it," said Lane Wright, Scott's press secretary. "He's going to keep his promise."
Whatever the survey did or didn't include, publicity good and bad on the supervisor of elections survey has given hundreds of thousands of voters a chance to reflect on an office vital to our republic. It's an office that has to get 100 percent of its work right. It's an office subject to overwhelming technological change, an office always working on preparation, on information, but one that disappears like a ghost into a closet most of the time, even in an election year.
Thanks to the governor, voters this election cycle are that much more apt to give their supervisor of elections race a little more thought and a closer look.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.