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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Allegations of voter fraud, suppression linger following Alachua County’s primary election

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican voters alleged voter fraud for lack of GOP ballots, felon votes

With voter fraud claims from top state officials and the bottom of Facebook comment sections,  post-primary questions linger in the aftermath of the Aug. 23 election despite the confirmation of all race results. 

Allegations of felon voter fraud, a lack of Republican ballots at select precincts and late-night result deliveries have cast doubt over Alachua County’s primary election process for some residents. A portion of voters point to what they feel is incompetence, leading to demands that Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton take accountability. Others call the delay a conspiracy to silence conservative voters in a majority Democratic county.

Alachua County voting precincts four and 20 — the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center and the High Springs Civic Center — experienced a temporary shortage in Republican ballots around 6 p.m., U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Gainesville, and Florida Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, posted on Facebook. 

Some voting in Republican primary races had to wait around an hour at these precincts until more ballots arrived or abstain from voting in partisan races, voters alleged on social media.

The county printed enough ballots to accommodate 35% of registered voters, Supervisor of Elections Office spokesperson Aaron Klein said, and the primary turnout was around 30%. But some residents think the county didn’t provide adequate ballots for Alachua County’s Republican population.

Klein attributed the shortage to a miscommunication between the Supervisor of Elections Office and the precincts. Despite the fact that the Supervisor of Elections Office printed enough ballots, the precincts that temporarily went without Republican ballots didn’t request a replenished supply in enough time to prevent a brief shortage.

Though polls closed at 7 p.m., Klein said voters who were in line before closing were still able to vote and were not turned away. 

David McBrady, a 51-year-old delivery worker and Gainesville resident, said the shortage reflects a broader bias against local Republican voters. 

Of the almost 180,000 registered voters in Alachua County, more than 85,000 are Democrats, while only around 48,000 are Republicans, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections. He believes the county’s Democratic majority printed fewer ballots than they should have in an attempt to stifle the Republican vote, McBrady said.

“I think it’s super shady how they accidentally ran out of ballots,” he said. “If you really want to disenfranchise or suppress voters, that’s the way to do it.”

McBrady said the ballot shortage reflects a voting process fraught with fraud and uncertainty — a sentiment amplified amid national skepticism toward the validity of elections.

“Right now it’s just bastardized,” McBrady said. “You just keep waiting to collect ballots that come in from forever.” 

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McBrady voted without issue, he said.

Kristy Bickmeyer, a 44-year-old Gainesville resident, said she heard reports of voters waiting past 8 p.m. to vote at the precincts that temporarily went without ballots. The incident demonstrated a lack of preparedness, she said. 

With voter registration information readily available, Bickmeyer said the Supervisor of Elections Office should have adequately planned for the expected number of voters. 

“It just seemed like a gross oversight,” she said. 

Bickmeyer voted without issue, but she said it was unfair to make others who followed procedure correctly wait to vote. 

“I’m a law-abiding citizen, did everything I’m supposed to do; I show up to vote, and I can’t because they don’t have a ballot for me?” Bickmeyer said. “I’d be pretty ticked off.”

Claims of wrongdoing toward the Supervisor of Elections Office also reached the state level. In an Aug. 30 press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis alleged convicted felons at the Alachua County Jail voted illegally after the Supervisor of Elections Office registered them to do so.

DeSantis’ allegations follow the arrests of 20 inmates in prisons across Florida five in Alachua County — who registered to vote through county outreach efforts following the passage of Amendment 4, a 2018 ballot provision restoring the right to vote for released felons.

Though Amendment 4 allows felons to cast their ballots following their sentences and payment of all fines and court fees, convicted felons still in jail cannot vote under Florida statute. Convicted inmates in Alachua County were encouraged to vote by election officials, DeSantis said.

“I think that there have been reports that supervisors have told voters, ‘Hey, if you’re a convicted murderer, you can vote. Go ahead and vote,” he said.

Barton denied these claims in a statement. The Supervisor of Elections Office conducted outreach programs to register eligible inmates — those who haven’t been convicted of crimes — to vote, but Barton said the county consistently followed the law and didn’t register any ineligible inmates.

Barton faced significant backlash following DeSantis’ comments and other allegations of voter fraud in recent months. She received derogatory emails in July and condemned the “sad reflection of the current level of discourse in this county and this country” in a written statement. 

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t identify any instances of voter fraud Aug. 23. ACSO spokesperson Kaley Behl said inmates are in charge of keeping track of their voter eligibility status.

“It’s incumbent upon an inmate to know whether or not they have the right to vote,” she said.

The delays in delivery of Republican ballots and allegations of felon voter fraud were exacerbated by a lengthy confirmation process. Alachua County didn’t report all 64 precincts until around 1 a.m. Aug. 24 — more than six hours after polls closed. 

All mail-in ballots, early votes, provisional ballots and day-of votes were confirmed Aug. 29, and all races in Alachua County have been called.

The result verification, though prolonged, went according to procedure, Klein said.

The Supervisor of Elections Office instructed precincts to first transmit the results electronically and drive the ballots to the office if the private transmission server exhibited any issues. To avoid problems with electronic servers, Klein said poll workers will drive ballots to the office as the primary method in November.

While speed and efficiency are important, Klein said election procedures call for a number of steps without cutting corners, which can take some time to execute correctly.

“It’s all about the sanctity of the results,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re first and foremost securing the results in everything we do and ensuring that when we do upload them, we’re uploading them accurately.” 

 Contact Heather at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hmb_1013.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.


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