Showdown Looming Between Rick Scott and Monroe Elections Supervisor?

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: August 22, 2012 3:55 AM
Rick Scott and Harry Sawyer

Gov. Rick Scott and Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office released a statement Thursday afternoon on the state's application of new early voting laws, amid speculation that the press release amounted to a not-so-veiled threat against the Monroe County supervisor of elections.

A week ago, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied approval to part of Florida’s 2011 elections law, as it applies to five of the state’s counties. The court determined that the provisions reducing the early voting period “will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote” of minorities living in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe. The counties have a prior history, in previous decades, of denying the vote to racial minorities, and under the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) must have any changes to their elections laws precleared by the U.S. attorney general’s office or the D.C. circuit court.

The court did suggest that one way Florida could adjust its early voting scheme without running afoul of the VRA was to reduce the number of days polls are open while simultaneously keeping them open for more hours each day, thus maintaining “exactly the same total number of hours for early voting as under the [pre-2011] law: 96 hours.”

That is exactly what Scott hopes to implement.

“There is an easy and clear path for the five supervisors of elections to comply with their legal duties under both state and federal law,” said Scott in his Thursday statement. “I applaud the four supervisors [of Collier, Hardee, Hendry, and Hillsborough counties] who have unequivocally stated that they will adopt an early voting plan that allows 96 hours of early voting from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. Such steps will comply with the federal court’s opinion.”

But in emails to Deputy Secretary of State John Boynton, provided to Sunshine State News by Scott’s office, the supervisors’ own statements were far from unequivocal. They promise to adopt the proposed new scheme only if the federal court preclears it; they neither endorse nor contest the proposals.

For his part, Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer of Monroe County -- a lifelong Republican who has held his office for 24 years and is retiring in January -- has made no secret of his disdain for the new law and the negative impact he believes it will have on his county’s voters.

“Governor Scott talks about the great turnout in the state of Florida for early voting this last primary, and I think that’s great as well. And to that I say: Just imagine if the other counties were allowed to keep their polls open for as long as we were,” Sawyer said to Sunshine State News. “Imagine how much greater the turnout would have been. Since its inception, early voting has increased in every single subsequent election in Monroe County.”

In what commentators are reading as a veiled threat against Sawyer, Scott vows to “continue to take all necessary and appropriate action to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed [and] that supervisors are fulfilling their duties.”

Asked whether he interprets that as some sort of threat, Sawyer is nonchalant. “Veiled or otherwise, it’s an inappropriate statement to make. There’ve been a couple of veiled threats that have come from the secretary of state as well as from the governor’s office,” Sawyer said. “The governor cannot remove me from office. How many months do we have left until January, when a new supervisor takes office [in Monroe]? I don’t take this as his trying to remove me from office. He’s just trying to do what he can to make me change my mind.”

Under the Florida Constitution, the governor may not remove an elected county official from office, but he may suspend him while the state Senate determines whether he should be removed or reinstated.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (10)

1:55PM AUG 22ND 2012
Who cares about following the LAW anyway? Give him heck Gov Scott!
3:05PM AUG 22ND 2012
Now into attacking Republicans, are we? Pathetic.
10:46PM AUG 22ND 2012
Dictator Rick Scott strikes again - it's now his way or the highway.

Already in Ohio, two Demcoratic election supervisors are undergoing removal procedures by the Republican Governor because they opposed the adminstration's culling of weekend voting, which disproportionately affects minority voting.

As to to Rick Scott's threatening to remove independently elected 24-year REPUBLICAN Monroe County Election Supervisor Sawyer who is not going along with Scott's Republican plan to eliminate weekend voting days, Senator Arthenia Joyner put it this way yesterday:

"Republican Governor Rick Scott’s actions and implied threat to remove the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections - who he considers an obstacle to his voter suppression goals - are a slap in the face to all people who believe in free and fair elections. And he continues to govern as if the state is his very own Florida Inc., and he’s the CEO.

Following the 2000 presidential election fiasco, Florida had made great strides to become the poster child for ensuring that every vote was counted by enacting and promoting early voting. Now, it appears Governor Scott is doing everything in his power to undermine those changes. His actions today mark another chapter in the ongoing saga of the Republicans in America to suppress the vote of Black Americans and other minorities who they fear support the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates.

Our hard-fought right to vote should not be used as a political football to get somebody elected to office. And it’s unconscionable that in 2012 we should be subject to such tactics that hark back to the oppressive era of Jim Crow.

Governor Scott should be ashamed of himself. And I’m ashamed of the message he is sending the nation and the world that elected officials purporting to represent all the people – not just one insular group or ultra-conservative mindset – would stoop this low to suppress the Constitutional rights of Black Floridians and other minority citizens and their ability to cast a vote.”

It seems Scott may be setting himself up for another losing court battle and wasting more of our hard-earned money. What does he care, it's not his money, even if the bills for these court challenges are calculated to run into the multi-millions.

Anthony DiMostra
1:15PM AUG 22ND 2012
Scott's a piece of crap, He won't be govonor in 2014
12:15PM AUG 22ND 2012
Rich Scott does not deserve to be governor of this state. He is as crooked as they come and I can't wit until Florida tosses him on the ash heap of history.
Donna Isaacs
11:34AM AUG 22ND 2012
Next thing you know lynching will return.
Just [filtered word]s.
11:12AM AUG 22ND 2012
it would be a cold day in hell before i vote for romney & ryan
10:07AM AUG 22ND 2012
Don't they have any other problems or business in Florida that needs attention? I don't see what voting hours have to do with anything. The hours should remain the way they were in 2008 and one county should not have more than another county. It smells worse than a pig farm. They know what they are doing and I hope the Dept. of Justice sits these power abusers down. Governor? Governor of what? He's a hot mess!
6:39AM AUG 22ND 2012
Voting laws have been established to be the domain of the state. Hours the polls are open are decided by the state. Make the early voting 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM before work, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM lunch hour, to accommodate working people.
1:29PM AUG 22ND 2012
Much more straight forward, and less controversial, solution - just open them on weekends, including the Sunday before the election.

Oh, but that would allow all those OTHER people to vote after church, especially those without cars, wouldn't it? Can't have that, can we?

Even extended EVENING hours would allow more minorities the ability to vote, but NO, you want them to open at 5am instead. Anything to make it hard.

How about a new poll tax? Or extended voting hours only for rural areas (like the Ohio Republican Secretary of State tried). After being called on that inequality and subsequently restricting all weekend voting rather than extending them in urban areas, an Ohio county Republican chairman (and advisor to the Republican Governor) put it this way - - "“We shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban - read African-American - voter-turnout machine.” When asked about their local chairman's racist comments, all the state party would say was “Preisse thought his comments to the Dispatch were off the record”.

So, racism is ok, as long as you don't get quoted.

Still think black voter suppression isn't intentionally going on by Republicans, including in Florida? If so, you're either a knowing liar, or totally oblivious to what's out there for all to plainly see (even the courts, and now confirmed by the Florida past-Chairman of the Republican Party as intentional minority voter supression).

More Republican politics of intentional voter suppression and the "Big Lie".

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