Rick Scott

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Now we know: the purge is off for 2014. Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.
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Florida Poised for Another Voter-Purge Disaster

 Shortly before the 2000 election, the state of Florida undertook a massive purge of its voter rolls, eliminating the names of 12,000 residents who the state believed ineligible to vote because of felony convictions. The problem? The sloppy purge eliminated the names not just of felons who had lost their right to vote under Florida law, but also of people who had just committed misdemeanors; felons who had regained their voting rights; and even of people who simply shared the name of an ineligble voter. The result was a mess which left countless eligible Floridians, disproportionately African American, stripped of their right to vote in a state that ultimately decided the presidential election by 537 votes.

Now Florida, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, is poised to start another disastrous voter purge. Think Progress reports that a purge of “non-citizens” from Florida’s voting rolls has already struck hundreds of eligible citizens. Many more have not replied to a letter that informs them they will lose their right to vote if they don’t reply with proof of citizenship. Despite the clear inaccuracy of the purge, the burden is on registered voters to prove that they are eligible, not on the state to prove that they are not.

Rep. Ted Deutsch is now calling on Gov. Scott to suspend the flawed purge, saying it will “create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

As we investigated in our report “The Right to Vote Under Attack,” right-wing politicians have been using the specter of “voter fraud” to carry out a number of programs meant to suppress the vote of progressive-leaning groups. The flawed voter purge in one of the closest of swing states is just the most recent blatant example.

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The Problem with School Vouchers: FL Private “High School” Offers $400 Diploma

The quality of education is a serious problem facing our nation, and it’s clear that the best solution is high quality public schools, not unaccountable voucher schemes that drain money away from our public education system. Next time  someone assures you that private schools are so much better than public schools, you might want to point them towards the InterAmerican Christian Academy, which allowed a Florida man to “earn” a high-school diploma in just 8 days and for only $400.

 

It began with a poster on a streetlight in downtown Miami: “High School Diploma. (305) 716-0909.” I dialed, and a chipper female voice answered, “Hello. High school.” Eight days and $399 in cash later, at the school’s Doral “campus” — a cramped third-floor office next door to US Lubricant LLC and across the hall from a hair extensions company — I was grinning widely, accepting a framed diploma and an official transcript sporting a 3.41 GPA.

 

This is the same state in which the Governor, Rick Scott, is looking to substantially expand “school choice” programs. Sounds like a great use of taxpayer dollars…

Read the full story at Thinkprogress.org

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Republicans Across the Country Work to Disenfranchise Voters

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.

The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?

Politics, of course.

While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:

Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.

This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.

Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.

In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.

Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.

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Future of Public Education at Risk in Florida

Even though Florida’s initial experiment with school vouchers was ridden with cases of fraud and profiteering, Governor-Elect Rick Scott plans to drastically expand the voucher program and put the state’s public schools in his crosshairs. While a recent state-commissioned study found that “students using vouchers to attend private schools in Florida are doing no better and no worse than similar students in public schools,” the new Governor wants to expand the voucher program to include all Florida students.

Scott called for the diversion of funds from the public education system to “education savings accounts,” which families can use to pay for public, charter, private, or virtual schools. While such a plan appears innocuous on its face, the devil is in the details.

Valerie Strauss who writes on education issues for the Washington Post suggested that by encouraging students to leave public schools for private institutions, Scott’s plan would badly undercut efforts to make schools more accountable since most private schools are not subject to the same measures of public accountability, like tests and grading. Strauss maintains that “the notion that private schools would inherently be any better than a system of public schools overlooks all the key factors -- poverty being the first but not the only one -- that affect our most troubled public schools right now.”

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones adds that “Scott’s education ‘reform’ plan seems be less about actually making Florida’s schools better and more about paying private companies to run bad ones.” Under Scott’s proposal, oversight would be seriously weakened, while private and virtual schools stand to profit immensely and at the expense of the public education system. Mencimer profiles cases of fraud and underperformance among the programs that would be given the greatest advantages under Scott’s plan, which she described as “a formula for disaster.”

The St. Petersburg Times questions how Scott would clear basic Constitutional and financial requirements. Firstly, Florida’s Supreme Court has found similar voucher programs unconstitutional before for violating the state constitution’s provision for a “uniform system of free public schools.”

Moreover, the numbers just don’t add up. Scott wants to severely reduce school property taxes and abolish corporate taxes, cutting significant revenue sources. The Times adds that since his plan entails “taking a portion of the per student funding for public schools and allowing families to spend that amount as they wish,” Scott “would not leave enough money for public education. And presumably, the hundreds of thousands of students already in private schools would receive public money as well.”

Rick Scott’s radical experiment with the Florida education system is the latest example of attacks on public schools that are taking place throughout the country. Just as Florida’s vouchers have so far proven largely ineffective, studies about voucher programs in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. also found that the programs did not come close to producing the promised benefits. In essence, Scott’s voucher plan drains money away from public schools in favor of an untested, unaccountable, and financially-questionable voucher program without any evidence that it will improve results.

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New Attacks on Public Schools

When Republicans take over the House next month, we can expect a flurry of bills seeking to impose school vouchers. But around the country, state and local officials are already escalating their assault against public education.

In Florida, voucher supports had already gotten their foot in the door with voucher programs for low-income students and those with disabilities. Last week, they took the predictable next step:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he's working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an "education savings account."

But whatever it's called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it - or arguably any state - has ever considered.

In Indiana:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he will ask lawmakers to approve an education voucher system that would let low-income students use state money to help pay for private school tuition.

Daniels provided few details about his proposal - including income levels at which families would qualify or the amount they could receive - but said it will be part of his larger education agenda for the 2011 session.

And in Denver:

The Douglas County school board Tuesday night took another step toward a voucher program, with the board president saying he would like a pilot program for the 2011-12 school year. ...

[T]he board agreed to have Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen analyze whether vouchers would be good for the school district. After that analysis, the board will receive additional public input and make a final decision. ...

Some at the packed school-board meeting room were not in favor of using public money for a private education, especially for religious schools. Thirteen of the 14 private schools in the district are religious.

They carried signs that read "Keep Public Money in Public Schools" and "Do Not Bankrupt Our Schools."

"I think this would help destroy the public school system," said former teacher Sue Carter.

Indeed, the diversion of funds from public to private schools threatens the integrity of our public education system. By providing public funds to religious schools, voucher programs undermine the separation of church and state. To make things worse, studies show that vouchers don't even lead to significant academic improvements. For instance, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education's final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP, the name of the voucher program) found that there "is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement."

The problems that are faced by America's public schools will not be solved by taking kids out of the system.

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Breaking fraud/suppression news from Election Day

With Election Day half over (at least for some), we have three new reports of the Right Wing’s voter-fraud fraud and voter suppression. This follows up on a couple of the items Miranda shared earlier this afternoon.

Florida. Consider this another case of the Right fighting back against a government that fails to buy into their voter-fraud fraud. The Rick Scott for Governor Campaign and the Florida Republican Party recently launched the Honest Voter Hotline.

While we are hopeful that Election Day will be free of any wrongdoing, we have seen that allies of the Democrat Party, have shown a willingness to commit fraud across the country, in both this election cycle and recent years. Given the tightness of the polls, all examples of fraud must be addressed to preserve the integrity of the election.

We, too, want Election Day to be free of wrongdoing – and free of claims that voter fraud is a pervasive national problem when it simply isn’t.

Kansas. State Attorney General Steve Six has opened an investigation into weekend robocalls alleged to not only give the incorrect election date but also false information regarding voter ID. Kansas requires ID only for first-time voters, and that’s only if they didn’t provide ID when registering to vote. Targets of the robocalls reported being told to bring their voter registration cards and proof of homeownership. Neither is necessarily required, and voting certainly isn’t restricted to homeowners. The original complaint was filed by the Kansas Democratic Party based on reports it received from individual voters.

South Carolina. Reports have surfaced regarding harassment targeted at Black students and Black voters generally. At Benedict College, a historically Black institution, the perpetrators have done what they can to make voting difficult or uncomfortable, even forcing some voters to fill out provisional ballots. At Sumter’s North Hope Center precinct, and possibly other locations, they’re manufacturing a similar air of uneasiness.

 

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Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group.”

However, the reporters found out that the “secretive political committee” received a large amount of its funding from U.S. Sugar Corp. In fact, according to Bousquet and Caputo, U.S. Sugar Corp. is spending around $1.1 million altogether to prop up McCollum’s campaign for governor. U.S. Sugar Corp’s enormous funding to back Attorney General McCollum is especially troubling considering that the State of Florida is currently purchasing land from the same corporation, a project that involves the Attorney General’s office and the state’s future governor.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we may see Florida-like levels of corporate involvement elsewhere. Already in states like Minnesota, where barriers to corporate electioneering came down following the Citizens United ruling, corporations have dramatically increased their role in supporting particular candidates for office. Because of Citizens United, the enormous amount of corporate election spending witnessed in Florida may become the norm in other races across the country.

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