South Florida Democrat implicated in absentee ballot fraud scheme
Congressman Joe Garcia’s chief of staff abruptly resigned Friday after being implicated in a sophisticated scheme to manipulate last year’s primary elections by submitting hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests.True the Vote is working on a recount effort in the Allen West race and the absentee ballots may be at issue. The race was decided by fewer than 2,000 votes. As Ed Morrissey notes the requests that were flagged were just the ones where the fraud was caught.
Friday afternoon, Garcia said he had asked Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, for his resignation after the chief of staff — also the congressman’s top political strategist — took responsibility for the plot. Hours earlier, law enforcement investigators raided the homes of another of Joe Garcia’s employees and a former campaign aide in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.
“I’m shocked and disappointed about this,” Garcia, who said he was unaware of the scheme, told The Miami Herald. “This is something that hit me from left field. Until today, I had no earthly idea this was going on.”
Jeffrey Garcia, 40, declined to comment. He also worked last year on the campaign of Democrat Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who unseated tea-party Republican congressman Allen West. Murphy has not been implicated in the phantom-requests operation.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, seeking electronic equipment such as computers, served search warrants Friday at the homes of Giancarlo Sopo, 30, Joe Garcia’s communications director; and John Estes, 26, his 2012 campaign manager. Neither Estes nor Sopo responded to requests for comment.
The Miami Herald found that the ballot requests were clustered and targeted Democratic voters in Garcia’s congressional district and Republican voters in two Florida House of Representatives districts, indicating a concerted effort by a mystery computer hacker or hackers.
Only voters, their immediate family members or their legal guardians can submit requests for absentee ballots under state election laws. Violations may be considered third-degree felony fraud. Using someone’s personal information — as required in online ballot-request forms — may also be considered a more serious, first-degree felony.
None of the identified requests were filled because the elections department’s software flagged them as suspicious. But had they slid by, campaigns would have been able to direct phone calls, fliers and home visits to the voters to try to win their support — if not attempt to steal the ballots from unsuspecting voters’ mailboxes.
The Miami Herald found that 466 of 472 phantom requests in Congressional District 26 targeted Democrats. In House District 103, 864 of 871 requests targeted Republicans, as did 1,184 of 1,191 requests in House District 112.