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Florida elections experts reviewing what went right — and wrong

County supervisors will shape their priorities for the upcoming legislative session

SARASOTA — Florida elections officials have an awful lot to talk about at their annual mid-winter conference this week.

Razor-close elections for governor and U.S. Senate. Two statewide manual recounts, missed deadlines in two counties, lost ballots, baseless claims of widespread fraud and a flurry of lawsuits–just for starters.

The 67 supervisors of elections — wait, 66, now that Gov. Rick Scott has suspended Broward's Brenda Snipes — will discuss what went right and wrong and will develop a legislative agenda for the 2019 session.

The post-mortems begin on Tuesday morning in a two-and-a-half hour discussion with Maria Matthews, director of the Division of Elections.

Supervisors have lots of questions about how to implement a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore the right to vote for more than a million convicted felons.

More than 65 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 4, and it takes effect on Jan. 8, 2019. But supervisors say that on the day after the election, convicted felons began showing up at their offices, seeking to register to vote.

"There's a lot of questions about how that gets done," said Okaloosa Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux, who said people showed up at his Crestview offices trying to register to vote.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley in Tallahassee cited a multitude of questions: How do felons prove they have made restitution, as the amendment requires? How do they provide the proof when they register online? What about people who are in the midst of being removed from the rolls because of recent felony convictions?

"We have a lot people calling our office all the time — 'Can I come register to vote now? I'm a felon,'" Earley said.

Howard Simon, who on Friday completed a long tenure as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said any legal burden is on the state, not the aspiring voter.

"The voters of the state of Florida restored their right to vote," Simon said. "It's the voter's responsibility to affirm what is honest, and it's the government's responsibility to confirm whether it is true or not."

Because of all the controversy following the 2018 vote, this conference is likely to draw more media attention than usual. Election supervisors are supporters of transparency — but not controversy.

For that reason, Lux said he wasn't sure how candid his colleagues would be with so many reporters listening.

"People want to talk about things that went wrong, and people want to talk about things that need fixing," Lux said. "But they don't want it to be tomorrow's headline, you know?"

Also on the agenda is how to implement a new state law in which Florida joins ERIC, a multi-state consortium in which states cross-check data to eliminate duplicate voter registrations and other problems.