Editorial: Don't let real vote fraudsters off the hook

Published June 25, 2013

If only Tallahassee's Republican leaders paid as much attention to actual voter fraud as to the potential kind. Revelations that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement failed to interview a key witness about fraudulent voter registration applications does nothing to engender trust that the state's top law enforcement agency is above playing politics. Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the Cabinet, which oversees the FDLE, should send a clear message that they expect better, even when investigations are tied to the Republican Party of Florida.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, championing the prevention of voter fraud was all the rage in Tallahassee. The Legislature made it harder to run voter registration drives. Scott orchestrated a faulty purge of the voter rolls. They claimed they were protecting the sanctity of the voting booth.

But by September 2012, the real threat was from a voter registration drive operated by a private vendor for the state's Republican Party. Dozens of counties reported suspicious voter registration forms. The party fired the vendor. The FDLE subsequently opened five investigations, including one that emerged when Jeff Jewett, field coordinator in Strategic Allied Consulting's Jacksonville office, discovered one his employees had submitted at least seven bogus registration forms.

Jewett's tip resulted in the employee receiving probation and a sentence of community service, but the FDLE apparently had no desire to look any deeper. As the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler reported, Jewett was never contacted by investigators. Another case of 11 fraudulent voter registrations in Fort Myers was closed without any prosecution. Three investigations — in Pensacola, Miami and Tallahassee — remain open.

Scott claimed last year that he embarked on his voter purge because fraud could only be rooted out when the state started looking — never mind that there was no evidence of widespread abuse. Yet when the FDLE had evidence of fraud, it stopped short and failed to interview a key witness. That's not acceptable. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam need to insist that the FDLE take its investigation wherever it leads. Anything less looks like Tallahassee leaders are willing to condone actual voter fraud.