TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff says that a 2004 voter registration form wrongly saying he was born in Cuba was an unusual "screw up" and not a case of him trying to deceive anyone.
The handwritten voter form from Manatee County was signed by Beruff and listed Cuba as his birthplace.
But Beruff, 58, was born in Miami.
"I don't know how it happened," Beruff told the Times/Herald in an interview after being shown the form. "It could have been my assistant."
Where Beruff is from is a key part of his Republican primary campaign to replace Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican who is one of only three Cuban-Americans in the Senate.
Beruff said as his businesses have grown more complicated and his life in general more busy, he has handed off a lot of paperwork to assistants at his office to fill out for him — even personal records like his voter registration address change.
"Matter of fact, that is not my writing at all," Beruff said after examining the voter registration in more detail. He said the "C" in Cuba does not resemble his handwriting. "I would never write Cuba. I was born in Jackson Memorial Hospital. I know that."
Beruff's parents were both born in Cuba and moved to Miami, where Beruff was born on New Year's Day in 1958 at Jackson Memorial.
Beruff's family moved to New York when he was 12, and he told the Times/Herald that he returned to Florida in the 1970s. He since has spent most of his adult life on Florida's west coast between Sarasota and Manatee counties, where he sold homes and then later created his own home-building company.
Yet Miami is an important battleground in the GOP race to replace Rubio. Beruff launched his campaign for the Senate in Miami and spent a part of Tuesday there. Miami is also home base for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former state representative and ex-county property appraiser who is counting on doing well with Miami to prevail on election day in a crowded field.
Though Beruff has said he is open to improved relations with Cuba in the right circumstances, he has come out hard against President Barack Obama's approach on Cuba, saying the United States is not getting enough back in the dealings with the Castro dictatorship.
Beruff insists there is no confusion about his Cuban background or roots. He said he has never tried to overplay that hand.
"I love my heritage," Beruff said. "I'm very proud of being Cuban. But I clearly understand that I am an American first."
U.S. Reps. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, plus Orlando-area businessman Todd Wilcox are also running in the Aug. 30 GOP primary. The winner will take on either U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, or U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, who are the leading candidates in the Democratic primary.
Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett said although Beruff ultimately signed a form that had false information, he said there is not likely any action his office will take because Beruff corrected the information on his own later and has since explained it was not intentional.
"It's not really an issue," Bennett said. "On this, it looks like a simple error."
The form Beruff filled out in 2004 warns that filing false information on the voter application document is a third-degree felony and could result in $25,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.
When the Cuba voter registration filing was first reported by Politico last month, Beruff had his birth certificate sent to Bennett's office to acknowledge that his Miami birthplace was his real birthplace.
Beruff said that he's not aware of any other documents that list his birthplace as Cuba. On his two marriage licenses, other voter registration filings, and his birth certificate, Florida is listed as his place of birth.
In 1984, Beruff first registered to vote in Sarasota County, where he lived up until 2003. On that 1984 document, Beruff listed "Florida" as his place of birth and left blank a section that required voters to say if they were born in any foreign country. In 2004, he moved to Manatee County, where he has lived since, but his registration form declared him as being from "Cuba" and lists his phone number as the main line for Medallion Homes, a home-building company he started in 1984 and still runs today.
But in 2008, when Beruff moved to Parrish in northern Manatee, he filled out a new voter registration form — all typed — to change his address. That form corrected his birthplace to Florida.