Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

FDLE launches criminal investigation into voter registration forms by GOP vendor

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Wednesday that it is launching a criminal investigation into voter registration forms filed by a GOP vendor, Strategic Allied Consulting.

The FDLE spent Monday and Tuesday reviewing forms filed by the Republican Party of Florida that were deemed suspicious by elections supervisors to determine if there was evidence of illegal activity.

"Following the review, there was criminal predicate," said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. "There was a possibility that crimes were committed."

Submitting false voter registration information is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Questionable registration forms have so far been found in a dozen counties, spanning from South Florida to the Panhandle. Many of the forms were incomplete, at least one was registered to a dead person and some in Palm Beach County included addresses for voters that were business locations, such as a gas station, a Land Rover dealership and a Port Everglades administrative office.

Upon hearing that the FDLE had found cause for a criminal investigation, Democrats responded quickly.

"It is past time for (Republican Party of Florida chairman) Lenny Curry and the Republican Party of Florida to come clean about their involvement in this escalating scandal," Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement. "With almost 30 days until Election Day … Florida voters, election administrators and law enforcement officials need to know the facts. The Florida GOP owes the people of this state a clear explanation. If they refuse to come clean it is incumbent on the Division of Elections to investigate the RPOF."

RPOF spokesman Brian Burgess said the state party welcomed a criminal investigation.

"We support it, we called for it, we believe that anyone who submitted fraudulent forms should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Burgess said, adding that Curry fired the firm when questions first surfaced.

A spokesman for Strategic Allied Consulting also seemed to welcome additional scrutiny.

"This company doesn't tolerate contractors who can't comply with their training or election law," said spokesman David Leibowitz.

State Republicans hired Strategic Allied Consulting at the request of the Republican National Committee, which paid Strategic at least $3 million to register voters in seven swing states, including Florida. The party has filed about 50,000 forms, but it's unclear how many of those were completed by Strategic Allied Consulting.

Leibowitz said the firm had 2,000 employees scouring Florida to register voters. He said two have been fired for misconduct: On Sept. 18 a man in Palm Beach County who submitted 106 forms that were found to be questionable was fired. On Sept. 10, the firm fired a woman in Lee County for filing 11 forms that appear to be fraudulent.

Supervisors of elections in other counties say the problematic forms seem to have been filed by various people.

On Tuesday, Bennett Miller, the assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of State, sent an email to all 67 county supervisors of elections instructing them to review all the voter registration forms filed by the Republican Party of Florida.

Susan Bucher, Palm Beach County's supervisor of elections, said her office is sorting through more than 60,000 registration forms, looking for those that were filed by the RPOF. "We need to figure out how many I need to look at," Bucher said.

Paul Lux, supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County, said he has already reviewed about three dozen forms by the RPOF that seem questionable.

Even counties that so far haven't reported problems are going back to examine RPOF registration applications.

Craig Latimer, chief of staff in Hillsborough's elections office, said he knows of about 3,100 applications that his office is now reviewing.

"We're trying to systematically go through them," Latimer said. "As we go through them, we will isolate the ones that we need to and get a second set of eyes to see if we can spot any irregularities."

The FDLE is still reviewing a second set of voter registration forms it received from the Department of State on Friday. Three forms were flagged Sept. 12 by Miami-Dade that were filed by the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. The three forms had similar handwriting for three different registrants. There has been no determination that there was criminal misconduct with those forms. "They're still under review," Plessinger said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected]

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