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2020 Election

Federal Judge Extends Virginia Voter Registration Deadline

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Voters line up outside to cast ballots in the general election at the Henrico County general registrar's office in Henrico County, Va., Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, on the first day of the state's 45-day early voting period. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge has extended the deadline for registering to vote in Virginia by 48 hours after the state’s online voter registration system went down because of an accidentally severed cable.

Wednesday’s order by U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. in Richmond is an effort to make up for several hours of lost time on Tuesday, which had been the last day to register before the November general election.

The shutdown of the state’s website caused “a tremendous harm” to the people who want to register to vote, Gibney said.

Both the voting rights advocates seeking the extension and the Virginia state officials they sued agreed that more time should be granted. The deadline to register to vote is now 11:59 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 15. It includes both online and in-person registration.

Americans are “21 days away from the most important election of our lifetimes, and I want to make sure that every Virginian who wants to vote has the opportunity to do so,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement Tuesday night.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had sought the extension, and said Virginia should make “a significant effort” to tell the public about the change.

“Absent relief, voters who attempted to register to vote through the online portal on October 13, 2020, but were unable through no fault of their own, will be absolutely disenfranchised in the upcoming elections,” the group’s lawsuit said.

Voting advocates said the accident couldn’t have come at a worse time, and lambasted state officials for the failure. Many people wait until the the day of the deadline to register, particularly after being reminded on social media and in the news.

State officials said a 10-gigabit optical fiber circuit was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state lacked a backup plan for this particular cable, and the episode shows the need for the state to continue its efforts at creating a secure network.

Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner said the circuit was installed this spring to help the state handle increased web demand during the coronavirus pandemic. She said backup circuits aren’t as large as the main circuit, but plans are in place to upgrade them.

Northam, a Democrat, supported the extension, and said it appeared that only the courts could change the state’s voter registration deadline.

This isn’t the first time technical problems affected Virginians’ ability to register to vote under a looming deadline.

In 2016, an unknown number of people were not able to register because of computer glitches amid unprecedented demand spurred by social media reminders. A voter advocacy group, the New Virginia Majority Education Fund, sued for an extension, and a federal judge granted a brief one.

2020 Election

4th Resident of Retirement Haven Charged with Voter Fraud

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FILE - People sit in an outdoor dining area of a restaurant in the Lake Sumter Landing Market Square, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in The Villages, Fla. Three voters from the Florida retirement community that's a GOP stronghold have been arrested on charges of voting more than once. The arrests come weeks after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a pledge to create a law enforcement agency to investigate election crimes, despite there being little evidence of such in the Sunshine State. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — A fourth resident of a massive Florida retirement community has been arrested on a charge of voter fraud.

Charles Barnes, 64, was arrested Tuesday and charged with voter fraud for casting more than one ballot, according to an arrest affidavit filed in court.

The arrest affidavit doesn’t detail the basis for the charge. Barnes entered a not guilty plea on Thursday.

His attorney, Victor Mead, didn’t immediately return an email inquiry.

Online voting records showed Barnes wasn’t affiliated with any political party and that he first registered to vote in Sumter County in 2019.

Barnes’ arrest was the fourth for voter fraud in the past two months of residents of The Villages retirement community in a county that is a Republican stronghold in Florida. Of the three other residents, two were registered Republicans and the third had no party affiliation.

The arrests come after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to create a law enforcement agency to investigate election crimes, despite there being little evidence of electoral malfeasance by voters in the Sunshine State.

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2020 Election

Florida House Public Integrity and Elections Committee Review 2020 Election Physical and Cybersecurity

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FILE - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was joined by Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones and Florida's Election Supervisors to announce Florida would join 29 States in Enhancing Voter Registration in Orlando, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. (Photo by J Willie David III / Florida National News, FNN News Network)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Many of the legislative committees are meeting in preparation for the upcoming legislative session on March 2, 2021.

The Public Integrity and Elections Committee met on February 9, 2021, to discuss whether or not Florida’s laws are working to produce secure, reliable, fair, and efficient elections. The presentations during this meeting were intended:

  • Give the members of the committee an opportunity to learn more about the nuances of election law
  • To appreciate what went right in the 2020 election
  • To evaluate areas where there might be room for improvement

Secretary of State Laurel Lee talked about the physical and cybersecurity of the elections, with her main focus being on infrastructure.

On May 22, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis instructed Secretary Lee to do a review of the statewide elections infrastructure to identify any vulnerabilities and address any vulnerabilities that were identified not only at the state level but across all 67 counties.

To create a baseline, the Department of State needed reliable information and the same information across all counties. The Department developed a plan along with the Supervisors of Elections from across the state. This plan involved sending Department of State cyber navigators to each of the 67 counties to conduct an election specific risk assessment on the individual networks.

This meant for the first time ever, the State Department had statewide visibility on the elections related systems, networks, and physical facilities. They were then able to send resources and personnel to the areas most in need and to work side-by-side with each county to address and mitigate any vulnerabilities.

Secretary Lee said that with the help of our federal partners, which included the US Attorney, FBI, and Homeland Security all critical intelligence and threat information was passed along in a timely manner and these partners helped in the fight against election-related misinformation.

Another new thing for this election was that the state joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in order to enhance election security and maintain accurate voter rolls. Membership in ERIC allowed the state and the Supervisors of Elections to cross-check their rolls with those of all other member states to find deceased voters, duplicate registrations, or other list maintenance activities in order to maintain more accurate and up-to-date rolls.

The State Department also used ERIC to conduct the state’s most sweeping effort to date to register new voters. 2.2 billion postcards were sent out to potential voters. Within 10 days of the households starting to receive those postcards, the state saw 300,000 new registrations with a total of 14.4 million registered voters this year which is an increase of 1.4 million.

Secretary Lee applauded Judge Pete Antonacci, former Supervisor of Elections in Broward County for his and his team’s work on correcting the many problems plaguing Broward County elections. She said that in 2020, Broward County was truly a success story.

When asked by the committee about the breakdown in the online voter registration site this year and in past years, Secretary Lee said that her office had made improvements to the system but they were only expecting to handle 100,000’s of thousands of new registrations on the last night of registration but instead they had millions of voters trying to register. Her office immediately began to upgrade the system and she extended the deadline for another 24 hours, giving voters time to register online. Secretary Lee said that improvements have been made to the programming as well as the system capacity so that the online registration system now will be able to handle huge numbers of voters who may try to register online.

Judge Antonacci offered his observations to the committee from his time as Elections Supervisor. Judge Antonacci said that his biggest concern is with mail-in ballots. Broward County received 475,000 mail-in ballots over a 32-day period in the 2020 election. He said that verifying signatures is definitely an area that needs improvement. Antonacci also said that vote by mail request lists are available to certain political entities which makes ballot harvesting possible because these entities can now show up at a voter’s home and this should be addressed by the legislature.

Judge Antonacci also said that he was concerned about the people who came to the dropbox sites and deposited large numbers of mail-in ballots. He feels that there should be a limit to the number of ballots that are allowed to be dropped off by one person.

Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley disagreed with this observation by pointing out that because of the pandemic, many neighborhoods had one person designated to pick up all the mail-in ballots for the neighborhood and drop them off at a dropbox location. He also said that he knew of many families in his county that did the same thing.

The committee appeared to have their concerns and questions addressed. There were a few questions posed to Secretary Lee that she did not have the answer to but she promised to get those answers for the committee.

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Lynn DeJarnette is a reporter for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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2020 Election

[OPINION] Yes, American Democracy is at Risk

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Smoke grenade goes off at insurrection led by supporters of President Trump, Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. Photo by Eric Lee/Bloomberg.

ORLANDO, Fla. – On January 6, 2021, the United States witnessed more history in the making. As United States representatives and senators went to work to confirm the electoral college votes for the duly elected President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, thousands of people showed up to persuade congress to overturn the election results. All of this overshadowed the historic victories of United States Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.

To be clear, this was not a protest, this was an insurrection put together with leaders of QAnon and white supremacist organizations such as the Proud Boys at the forefront. These were terrorists. After the insurrection died down, 66% of Republican House members voted to overturn the election results and eight Republican Senators – including Rick Scott of Florida – voted to overturn the election results. 147 Congressmen effectively voted in favor of terrorists. The worst part of this insurrection is that it was led by a powerful leader: President Donald J. Trump.

2020 broke many records, including the Black Lives Matter protests. Between 15 and 26 million protestors gathered, possibly becoming the largest protest in the history of the United States. Of the tens of thousands of BLM demonstrations that took place, 93% of them were entirely peaceful, meaning not one brick was thrown. However, the peaceful nature of BLM protestors did not stop law enforcement from using unnecessary force against them, it was common to see the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. In fact, President Trump condemned BLM protestors numerous times and even had peaceful protestors tear-gassed just so he could get a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church around Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C.

When far-right Trump supporters with confederate flags and Trump flags barreled into the United States Capitol breaking glass, assaulting officers, calling black officers racist slurs, erecting nooses, and breaking into congressional office buildings, the presence of officers were low. There was a large contrast between the officer response to peaceful BLM protests and the violent insurrection that got blood in the halls of the nations’ capitol. Instead of seeing violent arrests or racial profiling that occurs during BLM protests, people saw officers helping terrorists and members of guerilla movements walk down the stairs of the Capitol building and even take selfies with them.

Don’t be mistaken. This discrepancy between the response of law enforcement for left-leaning protests involving climate change or racial justice and right-leaning “protests” such as the so-called “Stop the Steal” protests and Wednesday’s violent riot are not completely unintentional. Over a decade ago, the FBI expressed concern about white supremacy in law enforcement, but those fears were not taken seriously by the U.S. government and over the past four years with a racist President Trump in office, law enforcement has only doubled down on racial bias.

For far too long, right-wingers have stood up for what they refer to as “blue lives” against the calls for reform and accountability in the law enforcement system to counteract efforts of social justice. The primarily white terrorists who launched the insurrection at the nations’ capitol were significantly more comfortable breaking glass and hurling insults at officers than BLM protestors were when they peacefully marched the streets. This comfort was caused by a sense of entitlement among right-wingers.

Since BLM protests first started, right-wingers flooded their social media pages with seven-point stars, placed thin blue hearts on their cars, and flew thin blue flags on their homes. This allegiance to police officers was viewed more as an alliance, so when the time came for them to start protesting, police officers would inevitably be on their side. Even when some officers retaliated against these terrorists, it was met with shock and anger.

If the pandemic didn’t get citizens thinking about how developed the U.S. is, this insurrection certainly should. The United States is supposedly one of the wealthiest and most developed countries, but the wealth inequality is high, right-wing demagoguery is on the rise, and more evidence is pointing to the idea that members of the Capitol Police colluded with terrorists to possibly harm members of Congress along with their staff. The U.S.’s status as a developed democracy is at risk, but it could be fixed.

The members of Congress who constantly voted to appease this dangerous president over the past four years and the members who chose to vote against certifying the results of a democratically held election must be held accountable. This means removing them from committees and even expelling those members, including Senator Rick Scott. The U.S. should also do more to hold law enforcement officers accountable and make them follow the same laws that ordinary citizens follow by getting rid of qualified immunity. There must be a stronger movement to shift funding to mental health resources in local communities to counter this large increase in white supremacy in law enforcement.

Democracy is at risk and the United States must do everything it takes to protect it from the same people who damaged it by placing this dangerous and corrupt administration at the top.

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Nathaniel Douglas is a newly elected Supervisor on the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board, making history as the youngest to ever be elected to that board, and was the youngest to be elected to public office in the state of Florida during the 2020 election. He is a Florida National News political contributor. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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