After voting issue, call for 'paper trail'

Published March 27 2016
Updated March 27 2016

Another Florida election is over and another Florida election controversy is beginning, as voting irregularities in Palm Beach County bring demands for a "paper trail."

Sound familiar?

In the aftermath of an outpouring of support for Donald Trump, some voters complained that when they went to the polls March 15, they were given ballots without Trump's name.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that hundreds of puzzled Palm Beach County voters received ballots designed for voters with no party affiliation, or "NPA," which means they could not vote for president in either party because Florida is a "closed primary" state.

As county officials investigated what happened, they discovered about 2,000 people who updated their drivers' license records at the county tax collector's office did not realize that they were required to again select a political party. Voters who don't are automatically classified as NPA voters, but the problem wasn't known until they went to the polls.

County supervisors of elections are calling on Secretary of State Ken Detzner to create a new system with a paper trail to confirm voters' party choices when they update their driving record.

"There is no immediate evidence in support of, or to disprove, a voter's claims when errors allegedly have been made," wrote Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, president of the supervisors' statewide association. "The lack of any evidential paper trail has invited errors, has further eroded voter confidence, and has placed an unfair burden on the supervisors of elections to be responsible for problems created out of their control."

A new lawsuit against Scott

It's extremely rare that Gov. Rick Scott would suspend not one, but two of his own appointees to a powerful board — one dealing with public health, no less. He did, and one of them is suing to win reinstatement to his post in one of the ugliest messes in politics in Florida.

The place is Fort Lauderdale, and the board in question runs Broward Health, one of the nation's largest tax-supported hospital districts.

Scott issued executive orders March 18, suspending David Di Pietro and Darryl Wright from the governing board of Broward Health, known as the North Broward Hospital District.

Di Pietro is a prominent Republican fundraiser in Broward.

Scott issued the suspensions after Di Pietro, as board chairman, proposed hiring as independent counsel a prominent law firm with Democratic ties, Berger Singerman. That led to claims by Scott's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, that the board was interfering with her investigation of hospital operations.

Broward Health's former CEO, Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, died by suicide at his Lauderdale-by-the-Sea condo Jan. 23. He died at a time when Broward Health has been under investigation amid allegations of kickbacks and favoritism in the award of contracts.

The news site floridabulldog.org first reported Di Pietro's lawsuit. A hearing will be held April 8.

'Gerrymandering' with prisoners

A federal judge ruled that North Florida's Jefferson County illegally drew districts for School Board and County Commission elections by counting non-voting prison inmates as residents, an illegal gerrymander that now must be changed.

As a result, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker found, the power of voters in the four other county voting districts is diluted in a violation of the principle of "one man, one vote" guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Plaintiffs said Walker's March 19 ruling is the first "prison gerrymandering" case of its kind in history.

"What we won," said Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union, "is not whether prisoners should be counted, but where prisoners should be counted."

He said the ruling supports counting inmates where they are legal residents, and that could impact the next legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2020 census.

The county is home to Jefferson Correctional Institution, and Florida's inmate population is the third-largest in the United States.

Biden stumping for Murphy in Miami

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be in Miami on Monday to attend a lunchtime fundraiser with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy.

President Barack Obama and Biden endorsed the congressman from Jupiter earlier this month in the competitive race with U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. At the time, Murphy's campaign simultaneously said Biden and Murphy would "campaign together" in Florida on March 28. It was unclear at press time whether Biden's visit will include public events.

Biden's last visit to Miami was in September for a speech at Miami-Dade College about the importance of an affordable college education. He was still pondering a presidential bid then, but he decided not to run.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

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