Election Fraud Investigation Report Says Jail Registrations Could Compromise Florida’s Election System

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The lead investigator of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sweeping criminal investigation into prison voter registrations by that county’s Democratic Supervisor of Elections concluded that the effort represented a “random registration of inmates that could compromise the integrity of the state’s voter registrations, according to his briefing notes in the case.

The report by investigator Tracey Rousseau made it clear that the first targets of the FDLE case were Alachua County Elections Supervisor Kim A. Barton and her then-outreach coordinator Thomas “TJ” Pyche, who were initially suspected of corruption. practices, a felony charge, and negligence of duty, a misdemeanor.

In her report, Rousseau, who is registered as a Republican voter, blamed the elections office for what she described as “the mass registration of inmates to vote without any investigation of the person’s criminal background, proof of identity, satisfaction of criminal record requirements, restoration of voting rights, charges for which they were being held (or) their level of knowledge and understanding of the voting system and state requirements.”

Despite the FDLE investigator’s findings, Republican State’s Attorney’s Office in Gainesville Brian Kramer last week cleared Barton and Pyche of wrongdoing in the case and instead filed voter fraud charges against 10 former prisoners. They have been accused of registering and, in some cases, voting in the 2020 presidential elections as ineligible former criminals. Pyche, who declined to discuss the investigation, resigned from his post last year.

Rousseau acknowledged in her investigative report that the failures she blamed on the elections office to adequately investigate the backgrounds of inmates who registered as voters were not required by law for anyone in the election office. occur.

Under Florida law and court rulings, most felons — except those who have been convicted of murder or sex offenses — can register and vote after serving their prison sentences. jail and no longer owe unpaid fines or court costs. It would have been permissible to register inmates as voters at the time who were awaiting the results of other criminal cases if their previous criminal cases had already been concluded.

Rousseau also cited at least one prison official, Sgt. Patricia Flynn of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, who told investigators that Pyche during jail registration drives urged inmates to consult with their attorneys and told them that if they owed unpaid court costs for previous criminal cases, they would not be allowed to vote.

“She never heard Pyche encourage inmates to register or vote if they had already been convicted of a crime or had unpaid court fees,” Rousseau recounted.

Another prison official, Constable Broward Allen, told the investigator that “it was clear the inmates knew it was up to them whether they were qualified or not”, but Allen said that certain detainees whom he believed to be ineligible filled in the registrations on the electoral rolls.

Still, Rousseau faulted Pyche for the registrations: “The general conclusion from several interviews with inmates was that they had been told or believed they were able to legally register and/or vote”, she wrote. She added that it was Pyche’s job to educate citizens about voting laws and regulations. Pyche declined to speak with Rousseau during her investigation, she said.

Barton, whom Rousseau interviewed in December, said there was no wrongdoing in the case in a statement released Monday. She cited a Florida law to point out that the supervisor of the office of elections followed the law to identify convicted felons whose voting rights were not restored.

“We take our responsibility seriously and will continue our efforts to ensure that all eligible voters in Alachua County can participate in the democratic process,” she wrote.

The law Barton cites does not address voter fraud investigations, but a separate law authorizes election supervisors to investigate fraudulent registrations.

Ongoing FDLE investigations have also focused on Duval, Gadsden, Lake and Leon counties. Although Lake County is reliably red, these others are among the few in Florida to be strongly Democratic.

Although they praised Florida for holding a smooth election in 2020, Republicans here have pushed for more election regulations and a full audit of the presidential election. In response, Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a new Bureau of Election Crimes and Security to investigate election crimes. The Legislature passed a bill creating unity in March, and DeSantis is expected to sign it soon.

In Gainesville, the state’s attorney’s office itself assessed the evidence included in the investigation report before filing charges, said Darry Lloyd, chief of investigations for the office. Once assigned to the case, a prosecutor can still decide to charge election workers if they find additional evidence. The cases have not yet been assigned to a prosecutor as of Monday, according to Lloyd.

Some of the former inmates charged with criminal voter fraud said Pyche, who led the registration drives during at least three prison visits, did nothing wrong. Others have blamed him for the criminal charges they currently face.

“About the guy who helped us vote, he did nothing wrong,” Therris Lee Conney Jr., 33, of Gainesville, wrote in an email from a Florida prison where he is serving a five-year sentence for non-drug and gun-related convictions from October 2020, weeks after he registered to vote as a Democrat.

Another, John Rivers, 44, of Alachua, wrote: “They actually helped us fill out the voter rights registration forms. They came and recruited us to vote, then you know, they told us we could vote and now they’re charging us to vote. He shouldn’t have been there signing people up and telling them stuff if he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Florida rules require felons who have finished serving their prison sentence to find out if they still owe unpaid court fees that would make them ineligible to register to vote or vote.

In one of the 2020 legal challenges to the issue, a federal judge in Tallahassee noted that there was no centralized office to track fines and costs in courts in Florida’s 67 counties. Amounts owed in older court cases — or felony cases in other states — can be especially difficult to determine because court records may not be immediately available.

If felons can’t determine for themselves, they can seek an advisory opinion from the Florida Division of Elections, where government attorneys would investigate for unpaid debts and tell a potential voter whether they can legally sue. to inscribe.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication. Journalists can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

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