Politics

Were 275 votes cast by Florida felons illegally? Miami-Dade prosecutors investigate

A Miami-Dade County election official tests voting machines in 2016.
A Miami-Dade County election official tests voting machines in 2016.

Miami-Dade corruption prosecutors are investigating allegations that at least 275 ineligible felons voted illegally in the county’s November 2016 general election.

The questionable ballots were discovered during an examination of a sample of 922 registered, but ineligible felon voters identified and purged by the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Office in the six months after the 2016 election. It is a third-degree felony to cast a fraudulent vote or to swear falsely when registering to vote.

The investigation’s existence was disclosed in a July 25 email from prosecutors to Andrew Ladanowski, a Coral Springs data analyst who contacted authorities after his public records request to the elections office turned up evidence of voting by ineligible felons whose civil rights had not been restored.

“As my unit chief, Tim VanderGiesen, has informed you, I have been assigned as the lead attorney for this investigation,” wrote Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Kerrie Crockett. “I would like to assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously and conducting a very thorough investigation. In order to do so, my team and I will need to acquire various forms of evidence from multiple sources. This will take quite a bit of time, so I ask for your patience and understanding as we look further into this matter.”

Office spokesman Ed Griffith declined to discuss the matter. “We wouldn’t be commenting on any ongoing investigation.”

A broader problem?

Ladanowski, a registered Democrat, believes the problem of ineligible felon voters is broader than he found in his sampling analysis. He said he was inspired to obtain the data by President Donald Trump.

“During the election, the president stated there was a lot of illegal voting. Our local supervisors and state attorney’s offices assured us they were making sure illegal voting was not occurring,” he said. “I thought of it as a bit of a challenge to see if it was true.”

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Andrew Ladanowski

The politically active Ladanowski added: “In order to discourage illegal voting, those who voted illegally need to be prosecuted.”

News of the state’s criminal probe comes amid a heated political and legal debate about whether ex-cons who have not had their civil rights restored should be allowed to cast ballots.

Florida is one of three states with lifetime voting bans for people with felony convictions who have not had their civil rights restored. The two others are Iowa and Kentucky.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law has labeled Florida an “outlier” in denying voting rights to citizens with prior felony convictions, asserting that one quarter of the nation’s estimated six million disenfranchised felons reside here. Those 1.7 million disenfranchised Floridians — nearly 11 percent of the state’s voting age population in 2016 — include more than 20 percent of the state’s voting-age African- Americans, according to both the center and The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit.

The issue of disenfranchised felons is of great interest to Republicans and Democrats. The addition of a large pool of potential new voters in Florida could affect future outcomes in a state where thin margins have separated winners and losers in key races.

For example, Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s margin of victory against Alex Sink in 2010 was 1.2 percent; against Charlie Crist in 2014 it was one percent. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush captured the presidency by winning Florida by just 537 votes out of nearly six million cast.

Ladanowski’s analysis of Miami-Dade data obtained from the supervisor of elections and the Florida Division of Elections shows 580 Democrats, 93 Republicans and 245 No Party Affiliation (NPA).

The data also revealed that most of the felons who registered to vote (532) were black; 222 were Hispanic and 67 were white. Eighty people did not specify their race when they registered.

In November, Florida voters will be asked to approve Amendment 4, which would change the state constitution to automatically restore the voting rights of citizens with felony convictions, except murderers or sex offenders, after they complete all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott is appealing a federal judge’s February ruling that Florida’s current process that requires felons to apply to have their civil and voting rights restored by a clemency board is unconstitutional. The board is made up of Scott and his Cabinet, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Ladanowski filed his public records request with the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections on May 10, seeking a list of all ineligible felons who were removed from the voter roll within six months of the November 2016 presidential election. State election officials on the lookout for ineligible felons regularly notify county election supervisors who can, if the information checks out, remove a registered voter’s name from the statewide voter registration system.

The list with the names and addresses of 922 registered, but ineligible voters was turned over the next day.

Ladanowski cross-referenced the data with public voting lists to identify ineligible felons who voted early or cast an absentee ballot prior to Election Day 2016. A similar list of felons who voted on Election Day was also obtained.

Ladanowski found that 51 ineligible felons voted by absentee ballot and another 131 ineligible felons voted early. He also identified 94 ineligible felons who voted on Election Day 2016, bringing the total to 276.

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Prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen

None of those ineligible voters were discovered by the supervisor’s office until after they had voted in the presidential election.

Florida law authorizes the supervisor of elections to investigate fraudulent registrations and illegal voting and to report findings to the local state attorney and the Florida Elections Commission.

But when Ladanowski asked Deputy Supervisor Michelle McClain what her office intended to do about his findings, she replied by email, “the department acted in accordance with state law by removing these voters from the voter registration system” and noted that the election “has been certified and results are final.” McClain suggested Ladanowski contact the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

On May 31, chief corruption prosecutor VanderGiesen notified Ladanowski he was reviewing his information about illegal voting. Eight weeks later, on July 24, VanderGiesen told Ladanowski that he had completed his review and had assigned the case to Crockett and Miami-Dade Detective Sgt. Angel Pichardo.

Florida Bulldog is a not-for-profit news organization created to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. Contributions are tax-deductible. www.floridabulldog.org

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