What there is to know
- Allies of former President Donald Trump formed Defend Florida to challenge the integrity of the state’s elections. The group went door-to-door to find “invalid” voter registrations.
- Defend Florida said 13% of the 9,946 voters were “ghost voters,” defined as ballots cast by a deceased person not residing at the address or the address is not a residential address. The group then extrapolated that number to claim that 1.4 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election were “ghost voters.”
- Election officials and experts say Defend Florida’s methodology is amateurish and flawed.
Republican Agent Roger Stone is among supporters of former President Donald Trump who want an “audit” of the Florida election results, even if Trump won.
“If Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t order an audit of the 2020 election to expose the fact that there are over a million ghost voters on Florida lists in the Sunshine State, I could be coerced to request the nomination of the libertarian party to the post of governor (of) Florida in 2022 “, Stone noted October 31 on Gab, a social media platform for conservatives.
Stone told us in a text message that he was referring to the findings of Defend Florida, a group linked to a national group of Trump allies, Defend Our Union, formed after the 2020 election.
But election administration experts say the group’s methodology and conclusions are flawed.
Members of Defend Florida went door-to-door looking for “ghost votes” cast by people who were deceased, who did not live at their listed addresses, or who had listed addresses that were not residential. They also came up with a number of what they called “ghost recordings” held by people who have died or have equally problematic addresses.
âThere is no term like ‘ghost voter’ or ‘ghost registration’,â said Thessalia Merivaki, a political scientist at Mississippi State University. âThese seem to be invented and aim to sensationalize the process of maintaining electoral lists. “
Stone, who advised Trump at the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, was convicted in 2019 on several counts of lying to Congress about the 2016 election. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence in July 2020 , then pardoned him in December.
Stone’s pressure for an âauditâ of the Florida election is despite the fact that Trump won the state by about 372,000 votes, or 3 percentage points.
And few Republican leaders in Florida share Stone’s view of the need for an audit. After the 2020 election, DeSantis called Florida a role model for the rest of the nation and said in October that the state’s election audits “went off brilliantly.” The Florida Secretary of State, appointed by DeSantis, told the Tampa Bay Times that the vote count was “accurate, transparent and in accordance with Florida law.”
Election experts criticize the methodology used by groups counting âghost votersâ.
This summer, Defend Florida searched for invalid records, knocking on doors and combing state data, the Tampa Bay Times found. âWhat method did you use to vote in the last election? They said they asked the voters they met. âDid you receive additional ballots in the mail? “
The group said that as of October 27, it had attempted to contact 18,547 registered voters and had successfully gathered information on 9,946. Defend Florida said it found that 13% were “ghost voters” – ballots deposited by deceased persons, persons who did not live at the address indicated or who had addresses that were not residential.
Defend Florida extrapolated based on those findings and said of the 11.1 million votes cast in Florida in November 2020, there were approximately 1.4 million “ghost votes.” This is what the group’s website showed when we accessed it on November 1.
Caroline Wetherington, co-founder of Defend Florida and supporter of Trump, directed us to a statement on the organization’s website that says the majority of âghost votesâ were cast by mail.
Merivaki and fellow political science professor Barry Burden at the University of Wisconsin-Madison both told PolitiFact they found flaws in the group’s methodology.
“The main problem is that canvassers visit residences for up to a year after the election,” Burden said. âEven if the voter roll was perfectly accurate on Election Day 2020, things would have changed since. People move, die and change names.â
The second problem is that Defend Florida does not explain how it chose the 31 counties or the areas where they surveyed. When we asked Wetherington for clarification, his response provided no further information: “We surveyed the homes of registered voters and obtained the status of 9,946 registered voters. Some voted in the 2020 election and some did not. . “
County election supervisors say campaigners don’t understand election administration
Election supervisors who were contacted by Defend Florida said they believed activists did not understand how election laws work.
Brian Corley, Pasco County Election Supervisor, received a letter in August from the group that said, in part, “We ask that you immediately clean your voters lists of voters who have not voted for 8 years.”
Corley asked them to provide the specific voter information, but said he did not get a response.
Election officers cannot remove someone from the voters list just because they did not vote. Citizens have the right not to vote, as many do in every election, said Wesley Wilcox, Marion County Election Supervisor, a Republican who is also chairman of the Florida Election Supervisors.
There are specific criteria in electoral laws that explain when a voter can be dismissed. If a shipment is sent to a voter and returned undeliverable, the voter becomes inactive. If the voter is inactive for two cycles of federal elections, then they become ineligible.
County election officials regularly receive data on deaths and felony convictions from state offices they use to update their voters lists. Florida is also a member of ERIC, a consortium of states that share data to help each other eliminate deceased or moved voters.
Mike Bennett, Election Supervisor in Manatee County and also a Republican, said the group’s information was “completely unreliable” and said “this is all pretty false.”
In response to reports of citizens calling for audits, Florida election supervisors released a statement in October defending the integrity of the Florida election.
Election officers take several steps to protect the integrity of the vote, such as verifying voters’ signatures on mail ballots and verifying identity documents for voters in person. Florida law requires that all votes be cast on paper ballots and counted on certified machines that have been publicly tested. After the election, officials conduct a public audit to verify the results.
Election supervisors have told us that the measures they are taking are working and have reported isolated examples of attempted electoral fraud. Last year, a Bradenton man was arrested after officials discovered he had attempted to obtain a mail-in ballot on behalf of his deceased wife.
âIt’s not the kind of fraud people are afraid of overturning a presidential election,â Bennett said. “His excuse was that he was ‘testing our system.’ He got caught.”
One final note before evaluating Stone’s statement on “ghost voters”.
Stone, who is currently a registered Republican in Fort Lauderdale, said in his article on Gab that if he ran for governor in 2022, he would run as a Libertarian. But state law states that a candidate must be a registered member of the party they are seeking nomination for for one year before the qualifying period begins.
The qualifying period begins on June 13, 2022, for the governor’s race.
Stone said, “There are over a million ghost voters on the Florida voters list.”
This is an unsubstantiated claim aimed at discrediting the state election administration. Stone is taking inspiration from the findings of Defend Florida, a group of Trump-aligned citizens who have gone door-to-door looking for what they say are invalid voter registrations. Although the group shared some details of its data collection process and findings, it was opaque about its methodology.
What he shared suggests the group only tested a small sample of Florida voters. Their conclusion also ignores that people inevitably move and that there are rules that govern when people can be removed from the voters list.
Election officials are taking several steps to ensure voters are eligible to vote, including that they are not dead. The statewide Election Officials Association, which represents officials from both parties, as well as state officials, has publicly declared the Florida election to be transparent and secure.
We rate this Pants on Fire statement!