GOP attorneys flag Trump supporter’s arrest to bolster voter fraud claims






A man leaves a voting site in Miramar, Fla.

A man leaves a polling place at the Sunset Lakes Community Center as voting takes place in a special election for Florida’s 20th Congressional District seat on Tuesday. | Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE — Attorneys representing national Republican groups are using the arrest of a Donald Trump supporter and alleged voter fraud in one of Florida’s biggest GOP strongholds to defend a controversial election bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lawyers working for the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee late last week asked a judge overseeing a legal challenge to the controversial Florida voting law to take notice of three incidents of voter fraud that had surfaced in Florida over the last two years. The court filing has not previously been reported.

One of the cases cited involved a central Florida woman who pleaded no contest in December to charges that she had turned in fake voter registration forms on behalf of registered voters. When authorities first arrested Cheryl Hall in March 2020, news reports noted that she had posted pictures of herself on Facebook with DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Sean Hannity. The New York Times reported she had life-sized cutouts of Trump and former first lady Melania Trump in the window of her house.

“Fraud is fraud, no matter who commits it or what party they prefer,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesperson for the NRSC. “Our goal is maximum participation and zero fraud. That’s why we’re fighting the Democrats in court to defend common-sense election integrity measures put in place by Republican legislatures across the country.”

Voting rights and civil rights groups have filed a legal challenge to the voting law passed by Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature and the case is set to go to trial in a Florida federal court in late January.

The measure put in new limits on drop boxes and mail-in ballots, including a two-ballot limit on how many mail-in ballots someone could gather and turn in on behalf of the elderly or sick and disabled voters. The limit does not apply to immediate family members.

Democrats scoffed at Republicans highlighting their own members allegedly violating election laws. State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat and attorney who strenuously opposed Florida’s new voting law, said the filing by Republicans “is not even relevant or material.”

“The ultimate irony here is the whole ‘Stop the Steal’ movement is actually the group violating election law and trying to take away the system for counting votes,” Farmer said.

Florida was just one of several GOP-controlled states that enacted voting restrictions in the aftermath of Trump’s loss and his unsubstantiated complaints about voter fraud, although it isn’t as restrictive as laws passed in Georgia and Texas.

Republicans contended that they were enacting the law to head off potential problems in the future. But a raft of internal emails and text messages obtained by POLITICO showed GOP lawmakers drafted the legislation with the help of the Republican Party of Florida’s top lawyer — and that a crackdown on mail-in ballot requests was seen as a way for the GOP to erase the edge that Democrats had in mail-in voting during the 2020 election.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and the NAACP, as well as other groups, contend that the law unfairly harms elderly, disabled and minority voters. The case has attracted widespread attention from more than a dozen Democratic attorneys general as well as the administration of President Joe Biden.

Lawyers for GOP groups that intervened in the federal lawsuit have tried to present evidence to justify the rationale behind the law even though legislators did not really cite any incidents while pushing for the bill.

U.S. Chief Judge Mark Walker, who is overseeing the case, early last week blocked the introduction of a December report prepared by a Florida International University professor. The report highlighted several examples of alleged voter fraud, including the recent arrest of four people from the retirement mecca The Villages, who are accused of casting multiple ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The report also cited a case where a central Florida town council election was reversed after the discovery of two illegal votes.

The pending federal trial will occur just as legislators are expected to consider additional election-related bills during Florida’s legislative session that started on Tuesday. DeSantis wants to spend nearly $6 million in the coming year to create a new election police to investigate voter fraud and other election law violations. Both Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said they were open to considering the proposal, but neither leader gave a ringing endorsement either.



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