TALLAHASSEE — Republicans pushing major changes to state election laws say the legislation is needed to better protect the state against voter fraud.
Need some proof? asked state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando during a recent debate on the House floor.
Mickey Mouse was registered to vote.
Yes, that Mickey Mouse.
"One of my colleagues suggested that we spent hours of time on a problem that doesn't exist, also suggesting that nothing in this bill helps people vote," Eisnaugle said April 21 while discussing HB 1355, a bill that would put new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups.
"We have seen … falsifying of hundreds of registrations, including the registration of an actor who was already deceased at the time. In another case, Mickey Mouse was registered to vote.
"In yet another case, hundreds or thousands … of students were registered to vote without their knowledge after they simply signed a petition, having no idea that their information was then going to be turned around and used to register their names on the voter rolls here in Florida."
We'll touch on the three specific claims of fraud Eisnaugle made to see if they're true. But for the sake of the Truth-O-Meter, we're going to check the statement: "Mickey Mouse was registered to vote."
Registered dead actor
Eisnaugle said one case of fraud included the falsifying of hundreds of voter registrations, and the registration of an already dead actor.
This story comes from South Florida before the 2008 presidential election and involves the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. Eleven people hired by ACORN to register potential voters near Homestead were accused of falsifying hundreds of voter registration applications.
ACORN actually turned in the hired workers after officials noticed the discrepancies in the cards. The group of workers turned in 1,400 cards, of which 888 were found to be fraudulent. Included among the fraudulent voter applications: deceased actor Paul Newman.
No one voted in the election using the fraudulent voter applications.
The story of the students thinking they were signing petitions — only instead to be registered to vote — comes from the 2004 presidential election.
In October 2004, the St. Petersburg Times published a story talking about instances on campuses across the state where students were unwittingly either being registered to vote, or were being signed up to vote as Republicans when they wanted to be registered as something else.
The Times quoted officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who said that 4,000 students may have fallen for the trick. The likely suspect, the Times reported, was a group hired by the National Republican Committee to register voters.
The workers would have the students sign a petition to legalize marijuana or a petition urging stiffer sentences for child abusers. Then, workers would have students unknowingly fill out a second form registering them to vote as Republicans.
Then there's Mickey Mouse, the cartoon face of the Disney empire, and apparently a Florida registered voter. (Take that, California!)
It turns out Mickey did fill out a voter registration application in Orange County ahead of the 2008 presidential election. Mickey checked the box indicating that he was updating his voter registration information and was changing his name.
According to the application, Mickey appears to have listed a birth date of Jan. 15, 2002, the address of "15 Ave 17 0922" in Orlando, and a ZIP code, 56812, that isn't on file with the United States Postal Service.
The phone number — with a 407 area code — was disconnected when we called.
He didn't pick a political party.
Orange County elections officials rejected his application, which was stamped with ACORN's label, though ACORN officials said they didn't think the application came from them.
For the record, Florida law requires third-party groups like the now-defunct ACORN or the League of Women Voters to turn in every application to elections supervisors, regardless of if it is incomplete or looks bogus. The purpose is to prohibit a group from not turning in registrations it may not like because of a voter's party choice.
In all three stories Eisnaugle cited, the fraud was exposed. The only real impact was that students in 2004 were registered as Republicans when they wanted to be registered as something else.
And in the case of Mickey Mouse, Eisnaugle got it wrong when he said Mickey was registered to vote.
Mickey never got that far. Someone filled out an application for him, but the application included so many inaccuracies that — even if mice were allowed to vote in Florida — Disney's animated superstar would have had problems. To us, the application looks more like a dumb prank than attempted voter fraud. And it was rightly rejected by the elections supervisor.
We rate this claim False.