Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Absentee ballots are real threat to voting integrity

In hindsight, Gov. Rick Scott's flawed attempt to purge Florida's voter rolls of noncitizens last fall almost appears quaint. The real threat to the integrity of elections is in absentee ballots. Exhibit A: South Florida, where hackers in three primary elections requested absentee ballots for 2,552 voters. Elections officials blocked the scammers, the ballots were not sent and prosecutors are investigating. But it is a cautionary tale that has so far been largely unaddressed in Tallahassee. The House elections bill passed last week makes it easier for voters to cure mistakes in submitting absentee ballots but is silent on curtailing absentee ballot fraud.

As the Miami Herald recently reported, Miami-Dade County elections officials were almost immediately suspicious in July of a flurry of online requests for absentee ballots for the primary election. They called several of the voters whose names were on the requests and confirmed the requests were fraudulent. Elections staff blocked the offending IP addresses from submitting more forms. But the hackers adapted, and over more than two weeks they submitted thousands more that were subsequently traced to just 15 IP addresses — most of them overseas.

No absentee ballots were ever mailed, and it remains a mystery who was responsible. All the winners in the 2012 primary in the three races, one Democratic congressional primary and two Republican legislative primaries, won by large margins. But the sophistication — the hackers only targeted infrequent voters who had not requested an absentee ballot — suggests a tie to a candidate's campaign. Under state law only candidates, political committees and political parties have access to absentee ballot request information before the election.

Prosecutors have reopened their investigation following the Herald report and a realization that they were not aware of all the evidence due to miscommunication with election officials. While the security at the elections office worked, what about the next hacker who may be more sophisticated? A grand jury suggested requiring voters to use a password to request an absentee ballot, not unlike the passwords required by banks, libraries and others.

That is not under consideration in Tallahassee. Nor is tightening up the process by which an absentee ballot can be redirected to an address other than the voter's, another avenue for fraud that surfaced during the election. One reform that has surfaced, in SB 600 by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would require all absentee ballots to include the signature of a witness on the outside of the envelope before it is mailed to elections supervisors for counting. But the benefit of that additional step is unclear. Supervisors contend there would be limited means to verify the witness signature.

The Miami-Dade hacking attempt only became public because of a grand jury investigation stemming from another absentee ballot scandal in Miami-Dade in which two so-called boleteros, or ballot brokers, were arrested before the primary and charged with voter fraud. There's mounting evidence that it's Florida's mail ballots — not its Election Day polls — that are most susceptible to fraud.

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Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18