It happens as regularly as clockwork now. Every election cycle brings about new charges from Republicans that our elections are being stolen by massive amounts of “in-person” voter fraud. This year Donald Trump has added to the noise with claims that the election is going to be “rigged” against him.
But when investigators have looked into charges of in-person fraud in the past, they have found only a few scattered cases of the practice. And in the cases they have found, Republicans seem to be at least as guilty of it as Democrats. Now, the latest charges of voter fraud are being directed at a target that is close to home for the Republican nominee — his new campaign chair Steve Bannon.
According to an investigative report by The Guardian, Bannon is registered to vote in Florida, at an address occupied by a house where he does not live, and that is scheduled to be torn down. The Guardian says this is the second house Bannon has rented in the state. He reportedly rented a house in Miami-Dade County for his ex-wife Diane Clohesy from 2013 to 2015, and provided that address on his voter registration, even though a source says he never lived there. Clohesy moved out of the address where Bannon is currently registered earlier this year. What makes this more interesting is that Bannon and Clohesy have been divorced for some seven years, although they have continued to collaborate on conservative film projects.
The Guardian offers no evidence that Bannon has actually voted in two or more locations. But what makes this a potential case of voter fraud is that by registering to vote at an address that is not his permanent residence, Bannon may have violated Florida election law.
The Florida Division of Elections’ web page says that in order to register to vote, you must be “a Florida resident.” That’s relatively vague, but according to The Guardian, the Florida Department of State guidelines “define “residency” as “where a person mentally intends to make his or her permanent residence.” All of the available evidence suggests that Bannon did not make, nor had no intention of making the Miami-Dade home his permanent residence. In fact, The Guardian’s investigation reveals that Bannon actually resides in Laguna Beach, California, where he owns a house.
It seems that Diane Clohesy also has a questionable Florida voter registration as well. Instead of registering at one of the Miami-Dade addresses where she lived, Clohesy is registered to vote in Broward County. And the address she provided on her registration form is “102 Governmental Center,” which is the address of the elections supervisor’s office. The Guardian says they were told that address is used by homeless people who want to register to vote.
Bannon isn’t the first conservative to run into an issue with Florida voter registration. Right-wing darling Ann Coulter was also accused of illegally registering to vote in the state a few years ago. Deliberately submitting false information on a voter registration form is a 3rd-class felony in Florida. If officials wanted to pursue this matter (which they almost certainly won’t) Bannon could be looking at up to five years in jail.
What is it about registering in Florida that is such a big deal to people like Bannon, Clohesy, and Coulter? The Guardian says that financial advisors tell their clients to establish residency in Florida if possible due to the lack of a state income tax. That allows them to avoid paying tax on certain types of income.
Maybe somewhere in their minds these right-wing activists think about Florida’s reputation as the ultimate swing state. Knowing that in the places where many of them live — New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles — elections are usually not close, maybe they want to vote somewhere where their votes could possibly influence the results. And that’s fine, as long as they actually move to Florida. But if you don’t follow the law on voter registration, you are guilty of the Republican party’s favorite crime: voter fraud.
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