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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Voter registration issues mount for Republican Party of Florida, RNC

28

September

TALLAHASSEE —A vendor fired by the Republican Party of Florida for submitting questionable voter registrations forms in Palm Beach County is also responsible for filing flawed applications in other counties and states, election officials confirmed Friday.

Earlier this week, Florida Republicans fired Virginia-based Strategic Allied Consulting after Palm Beach County flagged about 100 registration forms that looked suspicious because of signatures that looked alike and incompleteness. The Palm Beach County state attorney's office is reviewing those forms, said spokeswoman Christine Weiss.

But subsequent to that revelation, other counties have reported irregularities with voter registration forms with the identification number of 11-93 — which traces back to the Republican Party of Florida.

"We have heard from supervisors in five counties, Lee, Duval, Dade, Santa Rosa, Escambia, saying that they have seen irregularities on voter registrations," said Chris Cate, spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections in an email to the Times/Herald. "We are in the process of reviewing these cases and will provide our findings to the appropriate agency to investigate."

Meanwhile, across the country, state branches of the Republican Party have severed ties to Strategic Allied Consulting, abruptly ending lucrative contracts for voter registration efforts.

In North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia — all states where Strategic Allied Consulting has been active — the state Republican Party cut ties with the firm after news of irregular voter registration in Florida emerged.

The Republican National Committee also cut off relations with the firm, which has received $2.9 million from the RNC this year, according to elections records.

It's not yet clear if the firm, which received millions of dollars to register voters in several swing states, had been involved in similar voter registration irregularities in other states. Representatives with the firm could not be reached for comment.

In Florida, more than 100 forms were flagged in Santa Rosa County, said supervisor of elections Ann Bodenstein, who said the problems ranged from information such as birth dates and Social Security numbers not being included, to signatures that didn't match the spelling of the names printed on the forms.

"It's sad," Bodenstein said. "Most people who fill out registration forms are so precise, because they want it to be precise. These just didn't look that way."

Bodenstein and Escambia Supervisor of Elections David Stafford, both elected in 2004, said this many questionable registration forms is unprecedented.

"From a single source, I haven't seen this many before," said Stafford, who said the state attorney's office is reviewing about a dozen forms that he set aside as questionable.

The issue appears to be even more widespread than the state is reporting. Counties not included on Cate's list, such as Okaloosa and Pasco, also confirmed to the Times/Herald that they've found irregularities with forms stamped with the 11-93 identification number.

"We saw an inordinate amount of incomplete forms," said Paul Lux, Okaloosa County's supervisor of elections, who said about a dozen were flagged this week.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said Friday that three registration forms were turned over to law enforcement in June.

The Pasco office compared the submitted forms to what they already had on file for the voters named. Most of the information was identical, but there were small differences that baffled elections workers, Corley said. For example, two of the forms had incorrect dates of birth and two had incorrect Social Security numbers. One form misspelled the voter's name.

The tracking number led directly to the RPOF in an ironic twist for an election year that has been dominated by talk of voter fraud.

Republicans in the Florida Legislature pushed through a controversial and sweeping elections law during the 2011 session.

House Bill 1355 required third-party organizations to register with the state and created a database that would help track new registration forms back to the group who submitted them. The bill also limited the amount of days that can be used for early voting, required people who change their address at the polls to use provisional ballots and required third-party groups to turn in registration forms within 48 hours or face hefty fines.

Republicans argued the bill was needed to reduce voter fraud, even though there was scant evidence of any in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed the law over the objection of Democrats who said it made registering to vote and voting more difficult in Florida.

A host of lawsuits were filed in response to the new elections law, although most of the provisions have been upheld. One that didn't stick: the 48-hour registration requirement.

It's because of HB 1355 that Florida supervisors of elections know instantly if a voter registration form was turned in by a third-party organization and, if so, which one.

The state and national parties moved swiftly to distance themselves from Strategic Allied Consulting, which had issues before it was hired this year.

"We have zero tolerance for any threat to the integrity of elections," said RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer. "When we were informed of an alleged incident we immediately cut all ties to the company."

"We immediately informed the Republican National Committee that we were terminating the contract with the voter registration vendor we hired at their request because there is no place for voter-registration fraud in Florida," said state Republican Executive Director Mike Grissom in a statement.

Cate confirmed that the Republican Party of Florida on Thursday filed an election fraud complaint against Strategic Allied Consulting for submitting voter applications with false information and voter signature.

Like in 2000, this controversy originated in Palm Beach County. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said she turned over copies of 106 voter registrations to the state attorney's office on Monday.

The majority of the applications were people who were already registered to vote. In many cases, however, the Social Security numbers and dates of birth were incorrect, Bucher said. Some of the applications said that the voters were updating their address.

But that proved problematic also, Bucher said. State law disallows the use of commercial addresses, but Bucher's office found that a handful of the forms listed businesses such as the Port Everglades administration building, a gas station and a Land Rover dealership.

All of the applications being questioned included the Republican Party of Florida's third-party tracking number, Bucher said.


 

[Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 1:38pm]

    

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