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FDLE report concludes that voter registration in county jail by Supervisor of Elections employee was “haphazard” and “could compromise the integrity of the Florida Voter Registration System”

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

An investigative report released today by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) concluded that the “mass registration of inmates to vote without any inquiry into the person’s prior criminal history, proof of identity, satisfaction of prior legal financial obligations, restoration of voting rights, the charges they were being held on, their knowledge level and understanding of the state’s voting system and requirements, while not specifically required by the [Alachua County Supervisor of Elections (ACSOE)] office, showed a haphazard registration of inmates and could compromise the integrity of the Florida Voter Registration System” [emphasis added].

The report detailed an investigation by FDLE Special Agent Tracey Rousseau into allegations that as many as 34 felons had voted illegally in the 2020 Election. The original 34 names were provided by Alachua County citizen Mark Glaeser, who also provided information showing that Supervisor of Elections Outreach Coordinator Thomas “T.J.” Pyche had visited the Alachua County Jail on three occasions to register inmates to vote.

Rousseau learned that it is common for outside organizations to hold “seminars” at the jail that are designed to educate inmates “on information that would be beneficial for their reintegration into society upon release.” She also learned that Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton, while serving as Outreach Coordinator before being elected to the Supervisor post, had routinely dropped off “educational paperwork and flyers” at the jail, but she had not spoken to inmates. Pyche, however, visited the jail three times– February 5, July 15, and September 30 of 2020–and went into the housing pods to speak with inmates.

From the list provided by Glaeser, Rousseau reviewed court records and other documents and identified 10 inmates who had prior felony convictions and who registered to vote on July 15, July 16, or July 20 of 2020. She also found an additional five inmates who may have voted illegally and later excluded two of the 15 because they did not register or vote while incarcerated at the jail. The remaining 13 were confirmed to have prior felony convictions or outstanding legal financial obligations.

Interviews with the inmates

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Rousseau interviewed 10 of the 13 identified inmates, including Xavier L. Artis (voted by mail in the 2020 General Election after pleading guilty to 14 felonies), Kevin Bolton (voted in the 2020 Primary Election and falsely stated on the voter registration application that he was not a convicted felon or his rights had been restored), Therris L. Conney, Jr. (voted in the 2020 General Election and falsely stated on the voter registration application that he was not a convicted felon or his rights had been restored), Peter Cruz, Sr. (investigation found that he did not violate any Florida Statutes), Arthur L. Lang (voted in the 2020 General Election and falsely stated on the voter registration application that he was not a convicted felon or his rights had been restored), John B. Rivers (voted in the 2020 General Election), Daniel D. Roberts (voted in the 2020 Primary and General Elections), Leroy J. Ross, Jr. (voted in the 2020 General Election from the jail by mail-in ballot), Henry T. Shuler, III (did not vote in 2020 but falsely stated on the voter registration application that he was not a convicted felon or his rights had been restored), and Christopher T. Wiggins, Sr. (voted in the 2020 Primary and General Elections from the jail by mail-in ballot). Dedrick Baldwin, Sr. (voted in the 2020 Primary and General Elections and falsely stated on the voter registration application that he was not a convicted felon or his rights had been restored), was not interviewed but spontaneously stated, “I’ve always been able to vote” and “everyone in that housing unit registered and voted” .

Felony charges for perjury and/or voter fraud have been filed against ten of the above (all but Cruz).

Interviews with jail employees

In interviews with jail employees, Sgt. Patricia Flynn said she had escorted Pyche to the housing units to meet with the inmates. She said Pyche would explain who he was and why he was there and would provide the inmates with paperwork to change their address or receive an absentee ballot. She said he told the inmates that they would not be eligible to vote if they had outstanding court costs or were on probation for a felony conviction but that they should contact their attorney with any questions.

Retired Lieutenant Lawrence Certain told Rousseau that Pyche typically spent about 15 minutes in each housing unit, speaking for 1-2 minutes and then answering questions. Certain said he “didn’t hear him saying anything about specific requirements for eligibility” and that he “never heard Pyche tell the inmates to consult their attorney if they were unsure about their eligibility to vote.” Certain said he was “under the impression the ACSOE would check their eligibility and it was his opinion the inmates thought the same thing.”

Ofc. Broward Allen said he couldn’t recall Pyche talking about eligibility requirements and said that he and other officers had discussed “how the ACSOE representative was going to verify the inmate’s information.” He said that mail-in ballots had arrived at the jail in 2020 and that he found that “unusual.”

Rousseau’s investigation found that at least one of the housing units visited by Pyche was used mainly for inmates with prior felony convictions. The Jail Bureau Chief of the Classification Department, Fotina Perry, said that at the time, only three inmates housed in the H unit did not have felony convictions, but Cruz was being held on a sex offense charge, another inmate was held on a homicide charge, and Artis was being held on 60 charges, 14 of which were felonies. Rousseau notes that Cruz would not have qualified to vote based on the charge on which he was being held.

Emails from the ACSOE office

A records request by FDLE for Pyche’s and Barton’s emails found that Pyche wrote, “When I go to the jail, I just go from pod to pod and provide the opportunity to register and request a mail ballot. I share information when I’m asked for it, but the education component is limited.” Another email from the Associated Press asked if the office would remove any names from the election rolls based on FDLE’s list of felons with outstanding financial obligations, and Pyche forwarded it to Barton with the comment, “I assume we won’t be removing anyone this late in the game, but please confirm.” There was no reply from Barton in the emails provided.

Interviews with Pyche and Barton

On December 3, 2021, Rousseau contacted Pyche, who left the Supervisor’s office last summer. Pyche retained an attorney and elected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

During Rousseau’s interview with Barton, Barton said she was in “constant communication” with Pyche and that he followed her directions “without question.” Barton said she believed the practice of visiting inmates in the housing units began after the passage of Amendment 4, which (after a series of court rulings) states that convicted felons may vote if their sentence has been completed, including restitution, court costs, fees, and fines. She said Pyche’s goal was to educate the inmates on the latest legislation and court rulings regarding convicted felons registering and voting in the upcoming election. She said it was “incumbent upon the individual to know if they were eligible to register and vote.”

Barton told Rousseau her office’s role is to enter the registrant into the Voter Registration System, and it’s the Department of State’s role to check whether the individual is eligible. She added that under Florida Statutes, no one can be removed from the voter roll within 90 days of a federal election.

Conclusion of the report

Rousseau concluded that the procedure followed by Pyche in visiting inmates “deviated from the typical jail procedures” of holding seminars and that Pyche did not follow his predecessor’s example of dropping off educational information at the front desk of the jail. She added, “While it is ultimately incumbent upon the registrant to know their own personal circumstances before they affirm [statements that they are not convicted felons], the overall conclusion from multiple inmate interviews was they were either told or believed they were able to legally register and/or vote.”

Rousseau wrote that it was Pyche’s role to “arm [the inmates] with the best knowledge available to determine whether or not they are eligible to register and/or vote” but that the education component of his jail visits was “lacking in both quality and longevity.” She adds that Barton “was aware of Pyche’s methodology but failed to find fault in his conduct nor advise him to make any adjustments.”

Comments from State Attorney and Supervisor of Elections

In response to our question about whether there are any pending charges against Pyche or Barton, Darry Lloyd, spokesman for State Attorney Brian Kramer, stated, “Our office has filed formal charges on 10 defendants. There aren’t any additional charges being filed unless new or additional  evidence is presented.”

Barton sent a statement that said, in part: “The Supervisor of Elections Office consistently followed the law and denies any wrongdoing… We conducted outreach in the jail as part of our continuing responsibility to educate citizens about elections and to clarify the changes introduced by the Florida Legislature to Amendment 4. Because of these outreach efforts, many eligible voters inside the jail did get the chance to participate in the electoral process. My office does not discriminate against any segment of the population when it comes to who is entitled to receive the benefits of our outreach efforts.”

Pyche’s lawyer has not yet responded to our request for comment on his decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

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