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Florida officials flag a possible violation of elections law by state Democrats

The forms listed the wrong due date for voters to fix issues with their mail-in ballots.
Bins filled with ballots are stacked at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office as employees count ballots during a recount Wednesday in Lauderhill. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Bins filled with ballots are stacked at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office as employees count ballots during a recount Wednesday in Lauderhill. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published Nov. 14, 2018
Updated Nov. 15, 2018

The Florida Department of State has asked federal prosecutors to look into faulty forms sent to voters in at least four counties that may have caused them to miss the deadline for fixing problems with their mail-in ballots. Emails released by the Department show that the forms appear to have been sent by the state Democratic Party.

In a post-midterm season that is bubbling over with lawsuits and allegations of rampant voter fraud, this is the first instance in which state officials have flagged a possible violation of elections law.

READ MOREHere's a handy guide to all those Florida 2018 recount lawsuits

The investigation was requested in a letter, sent Friday Nov. 9 from Bradley McVay, the department's general counsel, to the U.S. Attorneys for the northern, middle and southern districts of Florida. Despite the letter's sent date, it was only released to news outlets Tuesday.

The issue: Voters in at least four counties — Broward, Citrus, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa — received "cure affidavits," or forms used to fix defects in the mail-in ballots, such as a missing or mismatched signature on the original ballot. But those forms listed the wrong due date: Thursday, Nov. 8 instead of Monday, Nov. 5.

"Altering a form in a manner that provides the incorrect date for a voter to cure a defect … imposes a burden on the voter significant enough to frustrate the voter's ability to vote," McVay wrote.

Email threads from elections officials in the four counties show that they received forms from voters on Nov. 8 who thought they still had time to fix their ballots to make them count. But it was already too late.

"Please pass the word to the FDP that they can't arbitrarily add their own deadline to your form for VBM (vote-by-mail) cures!" wrote Paul Lux, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections in one email. "This is crazy!!"

According to an email from Susan Gill, the Citrus County Supervisor of Elections, a voter who sent in a late form received a call from the Florida Democratic Party, likely following up on her form. Another voter in Okaloosa County sent in a form and CC'd an email account connected to the official Democratic Party email domain.

In the email, Gill suggests that the Democrats may have mixed up the deadline for fixing mail-in ballots with the deadline for provisional ballots, which is the day after the election, "but a bigger problem is the fact they actually changed one of the DOE forms."

It is legal for both political parties to send this form to voters to help them fix their ballots, but it is a criminal offense to alter a form.

Caroline Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Democrats, did not respond to an email and phone call seeking to confirm if the party sent the incorrect forms to voters.

There are four voters whose incorrect affidavit forms are included in an exhibit the Department of State's file sent over to the federal prosecutors. All are registered Democrats, according to public records.

"I'm a pastor and I'm going to pray because I don't understand what kind of foolishness this is. My vote must count," said Carmen Ireland, 78, who lives in Plantation and was one of the four voters included in the state's file.

Her form was faxed to the state Division of Elections' office on Nov. 8, after the deadline, according to the state.

Another major question is why the request for an investigation wasn't brought to light until Tuesday evening, when reporters received a copy of the letter four days after it was sent.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was CC'd a copy of the letter when it was sent Friday, the same day a spokeswoman for the department told the Times/Herald that no allegations of voter fraud in Broward County had been sent to the Florida Department of State.

That's because, according to the department, FDLE did not learn about the issue until Monday.

Sarah Revell, spokeswoman for the Department of State, said past statements there was no evidence of criminal activity related to elections in Broward were referencing only what the department's election monitors had seen.

The department issued those statements in response to Gov. Rick Scott's allegations that there was "rampant fraud" by Democrats in Broward trying to boost Sen. Bill Nelson's vote totals. There has still been no evidence released to support those claims.

Times/Herald staff reporter Lawrence Mower and Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.