Like so many abacuses rattling our anxious dreams, we're finding the calculations leading up to Votepocalypse Now more confusing and volatile with each day we cross off our calendars. It's not just the dire repetition of the "47 percent" – a figure that seems applicable to just about every contentious situation we find ourselves in these days – that's troubling us. Moreso, it's that there seems to be some kind of twisted algorithm by which everything operates lately, the sum of which always seems to mean that naobody can count – or count on – anything. At least not in Florida.
This year's Sunshine State slouch toward inevitable recounts and cries of "fraud" has already found its defining narrative. Way down in Palm Beach County, a rotten seed was planted last month when the county supervisor of elections office accidentally sent out some 50,000 misprinted absentee ballots. What started as an eye-roll and a head-scratch in response has grown into a full-court press of national import.
On Oct. 22, elections workers began the dubious (and likely error-laden) task of transposing onto new ballots information from the 27,000 bogus ballots expected to be returned. The screwed-up ballots were missing a header (the one above judge retention, natch), and that would mean that feeding them through counting machines was going to shift every filled-in bubble up by one position. Attorneys for both Democrats and Republicans are predicting a shambles on par with the 2000 election debacle. How are you going divine the voters' intent? The process is getting "more complicated with each passing day," the Palm Beach Post reports, saying that many from both sides are gearing up for "chaos." Oh, dear.
Just as in 2008 with the Republican attacks on ACORN, new FOX-y rumblings of "voter fraud" are being ginned up, specifically as it relates to "boleteros" (ballot-brokers, predominantly in Latino areas of South Florida, who make money by filling in absentee ballots for those unable to do it themselves). Never mind that the practice most recently found its media footing in the Republican spheres of Gov. Rick Scott's 2010 campaign; Florida's relatively unregulated absentee ballot-brokering is eliciting whispers from the left that this could very well be laying the groundwork for another coordinated attack from the right, especially as the election gets closer in time and in ballot counts.
Those counts, at least for now, are looking good for Democrats. Typically a bastion of gray-haired Republicans who can't be bothered to stand in line, this year it was the Democrats who were urging constituents to vote early via absentee ballots. Since Florida has reduced its early-voting time (typically relied on by Democrats) by half, absentee voting is the new "Vote Now" mantra. As of Oct. 21, Florida Democrats had returned 298,563 absentee ballots, compared to Republicans' 337,765 – a 5 percent lead by Republicans (independent voters have turned in 119,007). In 2008, Republicans led Democrats in absentee voting at this point in the election by 16 percent. In Orange County, the numbers appear to heavily favor Democrats: 69,063 Democratic ballots requested to 52,966 by Republicans – an 11 percent lead.
"Floridians are fired up to reelect President Obama," Florida Democratic spokesman Eric Jotkoff told the Miami Herald, referencing the success of the Obama for America "Vote Now!" campaign. Let's wait and see whether the Republicans will be as fired up about discrediting those votes as they were about limiting voting access. Bets?
In less disarming – but similarly confusing – Florida election news, last week's loss of Orange County Tax Collector Earl K. Wood at the age of 96 presented an unenviable quagmire for local Democrats. With just a couple weeks left until the Nov. 6 free-for-all, they could either surrender the oddly partisan seat or magically produce a fully vetted and financially capable alternative.
Well, it didn't take much magic. On October 17, the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee held a closed-door meeting to pick from its ranks a suitable replacement, and that replacement ended up being the group's chairman, outgoing state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. Randolph, the Democratic ranking member on the House of Representatives Finance & Tax committee, is no stranger to number crunching and, because of his campaign history, he has some leftover funds at his disposal, certainly enough to cover the $9,000 filing fee and a lightning-round campaign. (Randolph's name will not appear on the ballot; a vote for Wood is essentially a vote for Randolph.)
"I was just getting calls from people, calls from the party, and really feeling like this was a seat that we really needed to hold onto," he says.
Why? Well, for one, says Randolph, the tax collector's office carries more weight than many suspect. As Republicans continue to make the voting process more difficult via voter identification policies, it's important to note that a lot of the drivers' license-issuance work is currently handled by the tax collector – "we want to make sure [the office] is not used to disenfranchise more people in Orange County." Also, his opponent, Republican Jim Huckeba, has floated the idea of handing the elected seat over to the county commission for appointment, which, according to Randolph (who is currently suing the county in representation of the earned-sick time initiative), is effectively handing the job to lobbyists who like to text a lot.
That didn't stop Huckeba from feigning horror at Randolph's decision. "It is wrong to have an opportunist simply using Earl's good name to get elected to what can easily become a lifetime cushy job, all at taxpayer expense," he said in an Oct. 18 statement, clearly not recognizing that he, too, had used Wood's name explicitly in his catastrophic "Where is Earl?" signage campaign launched the weekend before Wood's death. Nothing ever adds up, does it?