Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's plan to 'rank' county election bosses infuriates supervisors

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott has infuriated elections officials across Florida by rating their effectiveness based on requests for routine information from the presidential preference primary in January.

Election supervisors call the survey "flawed" and "inappropriate," because the information is not a true indicator of how well an election is run.

In a letter to Scott, they warned that the results could do more harm than good in a presidential election year when, as usual, all eyes will be on Florida.

"It also has the potential to undermine confidence in Florida's elections, which we work tirelessly to instill in the public," wrote David Stafford, the elections supervisor in Pensacola's Escambia County and president of the statewide association.

Scott, who once operated the nation's largest for-profit chain of hospitals, is a strong believer in measuring outcomes to make government more efficient. But as the survey ballooned into a major controversy Thursday, Scott agreed to keep the results off state websites, as elections officials had requested.

"Gov. Scott has been briefed on the letter from the supervisors of elections and agrees to give this issue additional consideration. We will wait to post anything online until he has had time to evaluate the concerns," said Lane Wright, a spokesman for Scott.

The ratings were first posted on Times/Herald political blogs.

Counties could get a maximum of eight points; the top tier of counties got seven.

Hillsborough, Pasco and Miami-Dade scored 6. Pinellas and Hernando scored 5. Broward and Monroe scored 2.

Scott directed former Secretary of State Kurt Browning to collect eight kinds of data from the Jan. 31 primary, such as whether the first returns were online by 7:30 p.m., the dates absentee ballots were mailed to overseas voters and when voters were told that early-voting sites would open.

Elections supervisors say they had no idea the governor's office would use it to rank them and pit them against each other. In a 90-minute conference call Wednesday, they blistered Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

"It was insane and unnecessary," Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said Thursday.

"The process was flawed from the start," Clark said in an e-mail to Pinellas legislators.

On the conference call, Clark said, Detzner's staff made it clear that the survey was originally Scott's idea.

She called the exercise an example of unwarranted interference by the governor's office in what should be nonpartisan oversight of elections.

Detzner, a former lobbyist, was Scott's choice to replace Browning in mid-February.

Some elections supervisors say they were told by Detzner's staff that Scott wants to grade sheriffs, too. Like elections supervisors, they are independently elected constitutional officers, and in most Florida counties, a lot more powerful.

Pasco County Elections Supervisor Brian Corley called the ratings "sad" and "silly" and noted that counties got extra credit for completing the survey form early.

"I think we are judged by the voters in our counties, not by unelected bureaucrats in Tallahassee," Corley said. "I'm almost embarrassed."

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel was rated dead last in the survey, in part because the state said he did not complete it properly.

In an incendiary exchange of emails with Gisela Salas, the director of the Division of Elections, Ertel accused the state of bungling the data he sent.

"I wish the Division of Elections was honest from the get-go about the purpose of your little exercise," Ertel told Salas in an email Thursday. "At the end of the day, the only entity which has failed this test is you."

Ertel and the other elections supervisors have asked for a face-to-face meeting with Scott's staff to air their concerns.

"It is absolutely unprecedented, uncalled for and unbelievable," Ertel said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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