Campaiging within 100 feet of a polling place is illegal, even if you are the Florida Secretary of State.
Florida’s top election official said Wednesday that she was simply trying to help voters — not give an advantage to her party — by recommending polling place notices saying votes for disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Mark Foley would count for his replacement Republican candidate.
A circuit court judge blocked the plan last week, but Secretary of State Sue Cobb’s office has asked an appeals court to overturn that ruling and allow posting of the notices.
Cobb is an appointee of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, and Democrats say that using polling place reminders about Foley is a way to help the replacement Republican, state Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart. Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens is running as the Democratic candidate.
“It wasn’t political at all,” Cobb said during an interview with the editorial board of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Mark Bubriski, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, scoffed at Cobb’s claim of altruistic motives.
“It’s terribly partisan. That’s the only point of what they’re doing,” he said. “They can say it’s about informing voters, but they know that the law does not allow them to educate voters about the candidates. That’s the candidates’ and the parties’ job. It’s very simple.”
Two years ago, when the Democratic candidate running against U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, dropped out and was replaced at the last minute, the secretary of state’s office responded differently. It didn’t put out written recommendations urging supervisors of elections to post similar signs at the polls.
Dawn Roberts, director of Cobb’s elections division, said the office gave informal, oral advice that it was permitted. Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes did post signs in the Shaw case.
Bubriski said the difference is formally recommending the notices in writing. “They didn’t do this in ’04 for Democrats.”
The ministerial post of secretary of state, which used to be elected but is now a gubernatorial pick, has become controversial since the 2000 presidential election. During the contentious recount, then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris was vilified by Democrats who accused her of misusing her position to help George W. Bush win the presidency.