Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Left-leaning Florida voter groups deny allegations of registration fraud

Published Oct. 13, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Representatives with three left-leaning voter groups suddenly facing allegations of voter registration wrongdoing say Florida elections officials are diverting attention from a criminal investigation into suspicious applications filed on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida by trumping up accusations against them.

Florida Division of Elections spokesman Chris Cate told reporters last week that forms filed by the state Democratic Party, the Florida New Majority Education Fund and the National Council of La Raza involved "potential irregular voter registration activities" that "constituted a legally sufficient complaint of voter registration fraud."

Representatives for all three deny fraud took place and say the state has yet to contact them about the allegations.

"It certainly doesn't pass the smell test that this information was released to the press before the party was ever notified," said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. "Both the timing and release of this information appears highly political."

The allegations were announced two days after the FDLE launched a criminal investigation into voter applications filed by Strategic Allied Consulting, a private firm hired by the RPOF to register voters. Hundreds of questionable registration forms have been found in a dozen counties, spanning from South Florida to the Panhandle. Republicans, who had made voter fraud a top campaign issue, reacted swiftly by firing the firm and filing an elections complaint against it.

They've also responded by filing dubious allegations against other groups, said Rebecca Wakefield, spokeswoman for the Education Fund, a nonpartisan group that aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups.

"It's clear to us that this was all about timing," Wakefield said. "It's a distraction from the Republican case which made such big national news a few days before. This is all about Florida politics."

La Raza spokeswoman Camila Gallardo said her group had registered more than 50,000 voters since March with no complaints. She said it wasn't until the final week before the Oct. 8 registration deadline that her group, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, was hit with two fraud allegations.

"We've never spoken to anyone from the state about it," Gallardo said. "What's the purpose of just reporting it to the media, other than to sensationalize it, if you don't talk to the groups who can get to the bottom of it? We're confused."

Cate said the cases were referred to the FDLE and that he could provide no further details because they are open investigations. General, not specific, information about the nature of the allegations was released to reporters, he said, but only those who asked for other cases involving voter registration fraud in the wake of the RPOF case.

"We were only answering media requests," he said.

Cate and his boss, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, say strict protocol, not politics, determines which cases get referred to the FDLE. As of Friday, the agency hadn't decided if it will launch a criminal inquiry into the voter registration drives conducted by the three groups.

The way Detzner describes it, the process of determining which allegations should be referred to law enforcement is a simple one, but left mainly to the judgment of himself and his attorney.

"(Staff Attorney Bennett Miller) will do his background of the case, then he'll bring it back to me for review and I'll decide," he said. "There is no time frame typically. He has to do his own due diligence. Partisan politics play no role in evaluating a case."

It took a day to refer the Oct. 4 complaints against the Education Fund and the Florida Democratic Party to the FDLE. It took two days to refer a La Raza complaint to the FDLE.

Yet it took 16 days for an earlier case against La Raza to be sent to the FDLE. It wasn't announced until after the RPOF case was already reported.

As for that RPOF case, it took longer to get reported and referred to the FDLE.

Lee County's voter registration director first saw suspicious forms filed by a vendor on behalf of RPOF in late August. She didn't notify the state of the forms until Sept. 20. It wasn't publicly known that Lee County had any issues with RPOF forms until a wider fraud case involving the same vendor was reported by media Sept. 28.

"I would have liked to have heard about that sooner," said Susan Bucher, Palm Beach County's supervisor of elections, who discovered flawed RPOF forms in her county on Sept. 18 and helped spark the investigation.

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.

"There's not going to be a singular reason as to when cases are reviewed," Cate said. "Every case is different. The people reviewing it, I don't know what their schedules are."

Wakefield and Gallardo say their organizations follow strict procedures to prevent filing incomplete, incorrect or fraudulent forms.

"We went over all of our processes and asked, 'Do we have any problems we don't know about?' We couldn't come up with anything," Wakefield said. "We know the scrutiny is really high, but anyone can file a complaint. Doesn't mean it's valid. That's why we want to know what it is."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  2. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  5. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  8. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  10. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement