Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Startling claims spring from debate on elections bills

Mickey Mouse wasn't too creative when filling out his voter registration application.
Mickey Mouse wasn't too creative when filling out his voter registration application.

Two elections bills moving through the Florida Legislature are sparking claims about voter fraud and inefficient voting methods. We took a look at a couple of the more startling claims.

We start on the House side. Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala, is sponsoring a wide-ranging bill – at 157 pages – that covers things such as primary election dates, voter registration cards, absentee ballots, campaign finance forms and procedures at the polling stations, among others topics.

Democrats say the bill, HB 1355, is an attempt to suppress the votes of minorities, women and young people -- in part because the bill eliminates a four-decades-old provision that allows voters who have moved or changed their last name to update their information at the polls on Election Day. Those voters would have to file provisional ballots that are reviewed after the election under the proposed law.

Another sticking point with Democrats is that the bill requires third-party groups like the League of Women Voters to register with the state and to turn in signed voter registration forms within 48 hours instead of the current 10 days.

But Republicans say the changes are to protect the state against possible voter fraud. Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, cited several cases from the past few years that he says show why it’s needed.

Among them: Actor Paul Newman’s name was turned in as a South Florida voter – after he died. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of college students were signed up as Republicans by trickery. And Mickey Mouse registered to vote.

Mickey? Really?

We looked at all the fraud claims by Eisnaugle, and focused on Mickey Mouse. Somebody did fill out a card in Orange County before the 2008 presidential election to update his voter registration. But officials in the elections office spotted it – maybe it was the zip code that doesn’t exist, or the Social Security number that started with 123 – and Mickey was never actually registered. We rated that claim False.

On the Senate side, we’re following the debate on SB 2086, filed originally by Democratic Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa but since replaced by a substitute version during committee hearings. It’s a mere 140 pages, and it too covers a wide range of topics: submitting constitutional amendments to voters, primary elections dates, standardized formats for submitting election results, when absentee ballots are counted, and so on.

One provision would reduce the number of weeks allowed for early voting from two weeks to one. Republicans say that’s an efficiency move, while Democrats say it could disenfranchise voters.

State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, gave his reasons for supporting the bill during a Rules Committee meeting. He said voting in Miami-Dade County is inefficient. "What you see, more often than not, is that there is a trickle of two or three people a day at a very high cost to keep those public libraries and polls open."

Only two or three voters a day? Really?

We got the records on early voting in Miami-Dade for the 2006 primary and general elections; the 2008 presidential primary, regular primary and general elections; and the 2010 primary and general elections. Only once, in 2006, did two of the 20 early voting sites fall to single digits, and that was the day after Tropical Storm Ernesto swept through the region. Most of the days in those seven elections, hundreds of people showed up to vote at each site.

And the number of early voters has been increasing over the years, from 66,000 in the 2006 general election to more than 97,000 for the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.

We rated Diaz de la Portilla’s claim False as well.