WASHINGTON – Election officials in at least 11 Florida counties have uncovered potentially fraudulent voter registration forms submitted on behalf of the state GOP, a debacle that has punctured a hole in the Republican National Committee’s get-out-the-vote operation less than six weeks before Election Day.
By Friday, elections supervisors had found dozens of forms turned in by the party that had wrong birthdays or spellings of names that didn’t match signatures. In other cases, multiple forms were filled out in the same handwriting. One voter in Palm Beach County was registered to an address that is a Land Rover dealership.
“It was that flagrant,” said Ann W. Bodenstein, the elections supervisor in Santa Rosa County, where officials found 100 problematic applications – including one for a dead voter. “In no way did they look genuine.”
The controversy comes at an odd time for the GOP. Republican lawmakers across the country have proposed or enacted tough voter ID laws, arguing the legislation is needed to combat voter fraud. Democrats are battling the laws in the courts and say they are designed to discourage Democratic constituencies from voting.
The Florida GOP had contracted out its registration efforts to a newly formed company called Strategic Allied Consulting. The RNC had urged party organizations in seven swing states to hire the company, directing at least $3.1 million in payments to it.
The RNC and its state affiliates hastily cut ties with Strategic Allied Consulting when the first questionable forms were discovered in Palm Beach County. On Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida, which paid at least $1.3 million for the voter registration work, filed a complaint of voter fraud against the firm. The state Division of Elections turned over the problematic forms to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Strategic Allied is run by an Arizona-based consultant and Republican Party activist named Nathan Sproul, who has been dogged by charges in the past that his employees destroyed Democratic registration forms. No charges were ever filed. But his reputation is such that Sproul said RNC officials requested that he set up a new company so the party would not be publicly linked to the past allegations. The firm was set up at a Virginia address, and Sproul does not show up on the corporate paperwork.
Sean Spicer, an RNC spokesman, disputed Sproul’s contention. “To my knowledge, no one requested that,” he said.
Along with its voter-registration work, Strategic Allied had been hired to do door-to-door voter outreach in Wisconsin and Ohio, efforts that have now been called off.
In a statement released Friday, Sproul said his company hired more than 2,000 people to do voter registration in Florida and thousands more nationwide. He said the questionable forms were the work of just a few individuals.
Florida elections officials said they would have to scramble to clean up their registration books before Election Day. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this number of counties that have had this number of cases all at the same time,” said Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
Davis said she had heard from elections officials in Lee, Bay, Clay, Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa counties who had also identified problematic voter registration forms turned in by the Florida GOP. Chris Cate, spokesman for the state elections division, said possibly fraudulent forms have also been reported in Charlotte, Walton, Miami-Dade and Duval counties.
The state GOP turned in 45,917 voter registration forms, according to the state elections website.