The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing allegations that fraudulent mail-in ballot requests have been submitted in Palm Beach County for the upcoming Primaries, Agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Friday.
Questions about a practice known as Ballot Brokering have been raised in the Aug. 30 Democratic Primaries for the Palm Beach County Commission District 7 seat and the Florida House of Representatives District 88 race.
County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, who is running for re-election, is accusing her opponent, former State Rep. Mack Bernard, of submitting false requests for Mail-In ballots. In Florida, voters can ask to submit their ballots by mail, rather than voting in person.
The process, though, can also create the opportunity for fraud if someone other than the voter fills out the ballot and submits it.
For this reason, election officials carefully scrutinize the signatures on ballots.
Taylor said some signatures on those Mail-In ballot requests don't match those on file with the Elections office. Bernard has denied wrongdoing. "No one wants an election stolen," Taylor said.
Another candidate in the race Lawrence Gordon, Vice Mayor of Haverhill, joined Taylor in raising questions about Voter Fraud and said it is being directed at the Haitian-American community.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told the Sun Sentinel's Editorial Board she has referred questions about Mail-In ballot requests to law enforcement. It's a felony offense to forge someone's name on a request.
Bernard, who is Haitian-American, said his campaign has been knocking on doors since September, and everything has been done above board. "What we've done is what is legally required, which is we knocked on the doors and the people have requested the absentee ballots," Bernard said. "If something is done that is not in my campaign, that is not something I control."
The Taylor campaign mailed fliers to voters warning them not to let anyone tamper with or mail their ballot for them. District 7 includes Riviera Beach and parts of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.
Richard Giorgio, a Taylor Campaign Consultant, said based on his conversation with the Elections Supervisor, the same issues with Mail-In ballots have been reported in a race for State House being run by Bernard's political ally, Delray Beach Vice Mayor Al Jacquet.
Jacquet said the accusations are political and are aimed at suppressing the Haitian-American vote. He said his campaign has sought to reach new voters, but he has not done anything illegal. "The community needs their voice," said Jacquet, who was born to Haitian parents and speaks Creole fluently. "I don't think anyone should be shutting them up because they are Haitian-American or black or if they choose to vote by mail."
Jacquet is running against former Delray City Commissioner Angeleta Gray and Edwin Ferguson, an Attorney seeking office for the first time.
FDLE is reviewing the allegations and has not decided yet whether it will launch a formal investigation, Plessinger said. She declined to comment further because the review is pending.
Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Absentee ballots proved to be a source of contention in Bernard's race for State Senate in 2012.
State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, won that seat by 17 votes with more than 24,000 ballots cast. The Canvassing Board tossed 40 Absentee votes for Bernard because the signatures did not match the ones of file.
Ballot Brokering has been an ongoing issue in Miami-Dade County. For a fee, operatives known in Spanish as "boleteros," canvass neighborhoods to collect Absentee ballots. Some have crossed the line by filling out the ballots for voters.
In 1998, a Florida Judge voided the results of Miami's Mayoral race, finding a "pattern of fraudulent, intentional and criminal conduct" in the casting of Mail-In ballots.
A Hialeah woman was arrested on ballot-fraud charges in 2012 and accused of forging an elderly woman's signature and possessing 31 Mail-In ballots in violation of a local ordinance.
In response, lawmakers have sought to clamp down on the practice.
Most recently, a State law was passed in 2014 making it a misdemeanor for someone who is being paid by a campaign to possess more than two Absentee ballots.
I have been commenting on this issue for a long time. Absentee ballots are where voting fraud can take place, and Voter ID's have no affect in stopping it.
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker