Democrats hire investigator to identify who altered Florida form used to fix ballots
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TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Democratic Party hired an investigator to identify who altered a state form distributed by a deputy field director to staffers and volunteers working to fix as many rejected absentee ballots as possible after Election Day, the party announced Friday.
The action came after the USA TODAY NETWORK — Florida reported on an email that showed Democrats were told to distribute the altered forms in an apparent statewide effort, encouraging party workers to give them to as many voters as possible so they could fix signature problems on their ballots despite the fact the state deadline had passed.
One party activist has said the idea was to encourage as many voters as possible to fix their absentee ballots after the deadline in hopes that a judge would allow them to be included in a recount later.
Florida Democratic Party officials would not respond to questions about the use of the altered forms.
“Upon receiving notice of the allegations that the form was incorrect, FDP took immediate steps, including hiring an independent investigator to review the issues at hand,” said Mark Herron, an attorney for the party.
State Democratic party officials said Friday they will advise the public when they know the results of their internal investigation.
The Department of State, which oversee elections, declined to discuss the matter, which they referred to federal prosecutors last week after learning the altered forms surfaced in Broward and three other counties.
"We have been advised that there is an open investigation related to this case," state department spokeswoman Sarah Revell said.
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The issue troubles some state Democratic lawmakers who are trying to figure out exactly what happened and why.
"This is a very serious issue. FDP is right to investigate this matter immediately and should share results with the appropriate government agencies, interested press and party officials," said state Rep. Evan Jenne, who represents Broward County, where one of these altered forms was found.
Rep. Shevrin Jones, another Broward Democrat, said he also is trying to find out exactly what happened.
Jones said he talked Friday to Terrie Rizzo, the party's leader, who assured him that the official state document was not altered by “party leadership” but rather an individual. Jones said Rizzo explained that the investigator was hired to find out who altered the form distributed to party staffers and volunteers.
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Jones said Rizzo’s explanation helped put him more at ease, and he said the election process should be protected at all cost.
“Beyond looking at who did it, we can’t afford to have people lose faith in this process that we call democracy and we have to protect that,” Jones said.
The email obtained by the USA TODAY Network — Florida shows Jennifer Kim, the party's deputy central Florida field director, told party workers the day after the Nov. 6 midterm election to contact Florida voters who needed to fix mailed absentee ballots that had signature problems identified by local election officials. Kim attached a list of all county election supervisors across the state.
Voters who mailed their ballot without a signature or provided a signature that did not match the one on file had until Nov. 5 to submit the form, known as a "cure affidavit." But Kim sent the email two days after the state deadline to submit the form had passed and provided workers with a form altered to include an incorrect deadline to submit that paperwork.
The effort was perceived as an attempt to mislead voters by Jake Sanders, a Treasure-Coast Democratic consultant who said he warned party officials about the potential legal issues of sharing the modified form. But he says he was ignored and was told the effort was a party exercise “exhausting every possibility” after Election Day left Democrats in three top state races too close to call.
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Democratic party leaders have refused to discuss Kim's email, the use of the altered form by the party or any questions about its internal investigation. The party also did not explain what the "immediate steps" taken were that Herron refers to in his brief statement.
U.S. Chief Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee ruled Thursday that voters should have until Saturday to correct signatures on ballots, a move that could open the door for these ballots returned with altered forms to be counted.
Altered forms that mirror the one Kim shared in her email with volunteers surfaced in Broward, Santa Rosa, Citrus and Okaloosa counties and were reported to federal prosecutors to review for potential federal violations of election law.