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Will Tallahassee and the capital region be ground zero in Florida voter fraud crackdown?

Tallahassee Democrat 9/6/2022 James Call, Tallahassee Democrat
Leon County citizens lineup outside the Leon County Courthouse before the voting site opened for early voting Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. © Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat Leon County citizens lineup outside the Leon County Courthouse before the voting site opened for early voting Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022.

Scores of voters in Leon and Gadsden counties may become the next targets in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on voter fraud, according to a crime and fraud researcher who last year first notified local authorities of ineligible voters participating in the 2020 election. 

The names of 22 convicted sex offenders Peter Antonacci, head of the Office of Election Crimes and Security, has forwarded to state attorney Jack Campbell to investigate were on a list of 35 suspected ineligible voters – sex offenders and other felons – researcher Mark Glaeser sent to the Leon and Gadsden elections supervisors’ offices in December. 

Antonacci sent the list on Aug. 15, first reported by City & State, the same week DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people across South Florida in what he said was his “opening salvo” in the fight against illegal voting. 

The Miami Herald reports charging documents for most indicate they were issued voter registration cards and were told by someone in government they were eligible to vote.

Crackdown:

Protesters, who believe there was election fraud committed in the 2020 election, stand outside the Florida Capitol with signs on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021. © Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat Protesters, who believe there was election fraud committed in the 2020 election, stand outside the Florida Capitol with signs on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021.

But Campbell, the lead prosecutor for the Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Gadsden and Leon Counties, along with Franklin, Jefferson, Liberty, and Wakulla counties indicated that may not be much of a defense. 

While Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat it would be inappropriate to comment on an active investigation, he did say he was “not able to quantify the impact of any particular piece of evidence,” in a case when deciding to prosecute. 

Voters have to check a box on their registration form stating "I affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, that my right to vote has been restored."

It is a third-degree felony for an unqualified elector to cast a vote, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years of probation. People convicted of murder and sex crimes are excluded from having their voting rights restored under the 2018 amendment to the constitution.

Glaeser has identified 2,000 sex offenders on Florida voter rolls and says up to 25% participated in the 2020 election. A retired database programmer, he compares the state sexual offender database with county voting rolls to identify sexual offenders suspected of voting. 

State Attorney Jack Campbell is the lead prosecutor in Frankln, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties © Chasity Maynard/Tallahassee Democrat State Attorney Jack Campbell is the lead prosecutor in Frankln, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties

“The sex offenders are easily detected. I could teach my 12-year-old granddaughter how to do it,” said Glaeser. 

His number of ineligible voters grows when he scans voter rolls for compliance with the financial requirements lawmakers attached to the voter approved 2018 Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to felons. 

He estimates more than 10,000 ineligible votes were cast in the 2020 election. 

“They are going to end up arresting hundreds of people, and the Second Circuit is going to come into play with Gadsden,” said Glaeser, where he’s identified 18 sex offenders on voter rolls. 

Rural Gadsden is Florida’s only majority minority county and votes with Democratic candidates more than 80% of the time. 

Voting booths at the Eastside Branch Library just before early voting began in Leon County on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. © Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat Voting booths at the Eastside Branch Library just before early voting began in Leon County on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022.

So far, when searching for ineligible voters, Glaeser has already identified 18 sexual offenders on the county’s voter rolls. 

He volunteered that he was not picking on Gadsden but that's "just how the numbers came out.

“That’s in a county where only 20,000 people voted, 1/10th of 1% of every vote, that’s nothing to sneeze at," said Glaeser.

“Ask Al Gore. I’ll just leave it at that. It’s voter fraud. It’s real,” said Glaeser. 

Glaeser has also identified ineligible voters in Alachua, Duval, Marion, and Sumter counties. 

DeSantis, Tuesday in Live Oak, said he intends to hold people accountable for the enforcement of elections laws. 

“Some local jurisdictions don’t care about election laws. We do, and we think it’s important. If you’re not able to run an election right, we want to hold people accountable,” said DeSantis. 

DeSantis added that it is county officials, not the state, who enabled felons to vote. 

“If you go in your county and you register locally, you’re not registering in Tallahassee at the state government, so it’s really their responsibility to ensure that those voting rolls are accurate,” said DeSantis. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Sarasota earlier this month. DeSantis on Tuesday defended a series of voter fraud prosecutions sought by his administration that are controversial. MATT HOUSTON/HERALD-TRIBUNE © MATT HOUSTON/HERALD-TRIBUNE Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Sarasota earlier this month. DeSantis on Tuesday defended a series of voter fraud prosecutions sought by his administration that are controversial. MATT HOUSTON/HERALD-TRIBUNE

Florida law makes it the duty of the Department of State to identify those registered voters who have been convicted of a felony and whose voting rights have not been restored and to notify supervisors of elections. 

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, the Division of Elections had a staff of 20 to review a variety of court databases to determine voter eligibility, in the wake of thousands of residents having their rights restored by Amendment 4. 

Testimony in a lawsuit challenging the requirements lawmakers attached to the Amendment revealed there was a backlog of more than 85,000 voter registration applications to process four months before the August 2020 primary. 

“We are understaffed at this time. We work through the files the best we can,” division director Maria Matthews, told the court. 

She added the division processed about 57 applications a day. 

Glaeser said then Secretary of State Laurel Lee was “asleep at the wheel"  while third-party vendors registered ineligible voters and “not one election supervisor took a proactive role” to keep voter rolls clean.

Glaeser shared numerous email exchanges with county and state officials about his concerns. 

The Department of State did not respond to a request for comment. 

Mark Earley the Leon Supervisor of Elections and president of the state association of supervisors, said the state voter rolls are the cleanest they have ever been. 

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley is also the President of Florida Supervisors of Elections, Inc. the state association for Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections. © Jeff Burlew Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley is also the President of Florida Supervisors of Elections, Inc. the state association for Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections.

He added criticism county supervisors are not doing their job is based not in the facts or understanding of state election law.  

“The problem with felons appearing on the voter rolls is primarily due to a resource problem. The Division of Elections office needs more resources to do this,” said Earley. 

DeSantis' office did not respond to a request for comment.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Will Tallahassee and the capital region be ground zero in Florida voter fraud crackdown?

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