All right, it's now officially safe to say that Florida's reputation regarding election-law pratfalls is now officially sealed as a spiderweb trapped in a clusterfuck disguised as a circus. Sure, we've covered this over the past year, futilely beating our chests and screaming into vacuums about voter identification, voter registration, voter purges, early voting and every other iteration imaginable on the issue of suffrage, but now – having just survived yet another August primary – we can only predict that the next 12 weeks are going to be a greased ballot-slide likely to turn 2012 right back into the embarrassment that was the Bush v. Gore nightmare of 2000. And somehow, "We told you so" doesn't cut it anymore.
In the waning hours of Aug. 16, the three presiding judges of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia finally said what everybody already knows: that cutting the number of early voting days down from 12 to eight is, in fact, racist. How racist? "In sum, Florida is left with nothing to rebut either the testimony of the defendants' witnesses or the common-sense judgment that a dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot," the ruling reads, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The federal judges ruled on the Florida early-voting law for the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. So it's likely the state will have two different laws as far as early voting goes: Those five counties get to keep it the old way (12 days) while the rest of us – Orange County is not one of the minority counties covered – are stuck with eight.
If all of this sounds both abstract and confusing to you, it's meant to be. This latest move joins an avalanche of triangulated information regarding the Sunshine State's inability to be fair about fairness at the polls. On Aug. 14, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the dawning of yet another voter purge, this time based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security database and not just, well, suspiciously ethnic last names. Additionally, we still have Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown's lawsuit regarding early voting up for a Jacksonville hearing next month. Everything is up in the air, and the election is only 12 short weeks away.
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles says that, while early voting was stronger than in 2008, the early-voting tallies from last week's primary – like, whether black citizens were unduly affected by the shorter early-voting period – hasn't quite been figured out yet. And as for the purge, he says it basically depends on when the list is provided to him and whether the proper notice (letters, confirmations) can be executed legally. "The weeks are running out," he says.
Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman (and outgoing state Rep.) Scott Randolph says that the party has shifted its focus from early voting to absentee ballots, noting that 25 percent of absentee ballots filed by Democrats on Aug. 14 were from first-time voters. But aren't absentee ballots exactly where Republicans typically point their noses and bark "voter fraud"?
"In reality, there's just no widespread voter fraud," Randolph says. "That's the Republican goal: to make people cynical. The fewer people that vote, the more likely [Republicans] are to win elections."
In slightly less wonkish (but equally disturbing) news, an Aug. 17 Orlando Sentinel report tickled our fancy in a way that the paper's typical gamut of parasailing accidents atop pregnant pythons rarely does. The story was about a certain Corey Lamb, the co-owner of downtown yogurt hellhole Oopsy Scoopsy, who was arrested last week on felony charges of "committing grand theft and a financial scheme to defraud," both involving the money machine known as the city of Orlando. Why, you may ask, would we be giggling over the apparent demise of Lamb, who allegedly faked $11,000 in receipts for advertising and video-game machine purchases and turned them in to the city to justify his $15,000 grant from the city? (He also owes the city about $18,000 in rent, FYI.)
Well, for one, it's always funny how the city's pecuniary vetting plays out – just take a look at Cameron Kuhn or Lou Pearlman. But mostly this made us happy because Lamb is the owner of O-Cartz, those sort of stretch-golf-cart anomalies, a company that we reported extensively on back in February ("Live, work, pay," Feb. 23) after a young woman named Abbey Pfeiffer was struck by one errant cart as she crossed Orange Avenue downtown. Turns out that O-Cartz was running a similarly questionable operation, at least to the degree that the company allowed its insurance to lapse for the better part of the year, leaving Pfeiffer without much in the way of judicial relief for her extensive injuries. We spoke with Mayor Buddy Dyer for that piece, bringing up the fact that Dyer has posed in pictures with Lamb and that Lamb comfortably sits on the Orlando Citizens Police Review Board, even as he received financial assistance from the city. At the time, Dyer didn't make much of the connection. His staff, however, hinted about the city's growing problems with Lamb's financial indiscretions. (We tried to confirm with the city that we are, in fact, responsible for Lamb's takedown, but were not able to get said confirmation by press time.)
Meanwhile, Pfeiffer – whose case has been dropped by Morgan & Morgan since the story ran – could be heard rolling her eyes even through email when we forwarded the news of Lamb's troubles her way. "Go Orlando," she wrote. "Real cool that they ARE capable of sticking up for someone ... themselves."