Wherever crowds gathered in the shallow, lake-littered part of Florida between Orlando and Ocala, Cheryl Hall seemed to be there: dressed in red, white, and blue, with the clipboard in hand, for new ones at the Mount Dora Arts Festival Voters win Ocoee Founders & # 39; Day Party, the Taste of South Lake Fair in Clermont, and more.
"She just seemed like a hardworking, hardworking woman," said Alan Hays, the Lake County election officer, who appears in a photo on Ms. Hall's Facebook page and has his arm firmly around her shoulder. "Nobody suspected that something was wrong until we received calls from people."
In fact, something was wrong: Ms. Hall, a 63-year-old and very passionate Republican whose ranch house in Clermont bears life-size excerpts from Donald and Melania Trump and a MAGA poster in the window, was charged with 10 crimes last week for submitting incorrect voter registration forms . The party affiliations of already registered Democrats and independents had been converted to Republicans on at least 10 forms attributed to Ms. Hall. More than 100 others who may be bound to them contained missing or incorrect dates, such as incorrect dates of birth.
Ms. Hall was an advertiser for Florida First Inc., a recently founded nonprofit organization that is at least partially funded by a dark money group made up of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump's re-election manager, and other Trump employees put together.
The Florida nonprofit, which has submitted more than 30,000 new registrations, according to the Florida Secretary of State, is part of a $ 20 million offer by America First Policies to register Republicans in battlefield states before November. State officials have said there has been no evidence of widespread fraud in Florida First's voter registration efforts.
imageRecognition…Sheriff's Office in Lake County, via Associated Press
But the shortcomings that Ms. Hall are accused of are hardly unknown in voter registration campaigns – especially those that, like Florida First, are supported by partisans. Registering new voters is a poorly paid temporary job that requires little skill. In countries where this is possible (not Florida), workers have quotas or cash incentives to attract as many new registrants as possible.
The result is a small but steady mess of fraudulent registrations that is sufficient to require extra vigilance on the part of the electorate, but rarely poses a serious threat to election integrity. The Republicans were the loudest on allegations of election fraud, but Ms. Hall's case recalls that neither party has a monopoly on virtue.
In Leon County, North Florida, home of the state capital Tallahassee, authorities are examining the registrations of a liberally supported nonprofit organization where two voters have complained that their party registrations have been changed and a newly registered voter has been found dead, as first reported was from the Miami Herald.
Lake County officials said they were still unsure of what had resulted in the wrong forms being attributed to Ms. Hall, which included errors so obvious that they were quickly caught.
The Florida court records indicate that her life was characterized by both financial and legal problems, including a 2003 parole charge fraud charge and a 2014 arrest for theft of donations from the Salvation Army . This charge was dropped after participating in a pre-judicial redirection program.
Ms. Hall was active in local Republican party circles, and her Facebook page was adorned with photos, some of which were recently removed, such as those with conservative luminaries such as Donald Trump Jr., Sean Hannity and Roger J. Stone Jr. and the Republican governor of the state, Ron DeSantis.
She was a member of the Lake County Republican Party Executive Committee, which was responsible for voting in her district, said County Party Chairman Walter B. Price, Sr. He said the process has started to remove them from these items.
Ms. Hall did not respond to requests for comments, including a note that was left in her home.
Mr. Hays, Lake County's election officer, said she submitted more than 500 registration forms in his county alone before she was arrested.
"We had already undertaken extensive quality control measures that helped us assist the election officer in their investigations," said Florida First lawyer Chris Gober, adding that there is no financial incentive for an advertiser to add additional voter registration requests to deliver. "Our mission is to register voters and ensure that every Florida resident has the opportunity to vote regardless of their ideology or political affiliation."
Mr. Hays said Florida First traced the forms in question back to Ms. Hall because they contained a number that had been assigned to her for registration work. He hopes to see other electoral officials and groups of voters soon to find out what action we can take to prevent this.
The most common example of registration irregularities was the left-wing community organization group ACORN, whose registration campaigns were targeted by Republicans for alleged fraud during the 2008 presidential campaign. The group said it hired 13,000 registrants and won 1.3 million new voters in 2007 and 2008. A handful of these workers were found guilty of fraud, such as registering children and non-existent voters.
The group said most of the charges were politically exaggerated – in some cases, they claimed, workers were led to false registrations that they actually reported for election workers. However, a 2008 statement said: "Every company of this size will involve some people in inappropriate behavior." The controversy forced ACORN to close in 2010.
Other examples have emerged over time: a Los Angeles voter campaign that paid $ 2.50 in 1992 for each new registration and enrolled a dead person and baby; an Orange County, California, driven in 2006 by a Republican contractor who switched 65 Democrats to Republicans; a 2010 campaign by a pro-democratic union that submitted up to a thousand suspicious forms; A Pennsylvania student who pleaded guilty to 18 fake registrations in 2017 to help an employee achieve a quota.
While such fraud is a serious matter, it generally poses a less serious threat to the integrity of the elections, said David J. Becker, director of the Center for Election Innovation and Reform, who helped create a clearinghouse for the review to set up the voter registrations used by election officials nationwide.
"Election officials have to be vigilant against such attacks, and in this case they were," he said in an email. “I think the likelihood of detecting such an attack is very high, as is the chance of mitigating negative effects, even if it makes it difficult for election officials. But at a time of foreign interference and partisanship that wins at all costs, add this to the list of things that polling officers are concerned about. "
The cases have often led to a political divide between Democrats who have long relied on new voters to build their ranks and Republicans whose supporters have tended to be better educated in the past and more likely to register without being asked.
The Republicans of Texas may have imposed the nation's strictest restrictions on voter registration campaigns. Florida's Republican-dominated legislature has restricted democratic registration efforts in the 2012 campaign season by imposing such strict restrictions on voter registration that some groups have given up. The law was later overturned in court.
Amaris Castillo reported from Clermont, Florida.