Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Florida is using a fraud-hunting tool used by the right to look for voters to remove from the rolls

By 37ci3 May24,2024



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida wants local election officials to use data collected by far-right activists who some believe the 2020 election was rigged to potentially remove people from the state’s voter rolls, according to emails obtained by NBC News.

The activist network is collecting voter data in 24 states, and on May 3 one of them sent an email to Florida’s top election official. It includes the names of about 10,000 voters from across the state, which the group insists should be screened for potential removal from voter rolls, a process called roll storage.

The state’s chief election official then relayed the information to county election supervisors and asked them to “take action.”

“I apologize for the delay in sending the following email and attachment from a concerned citizen regarding potential interstate registered voters,” Florida Department of Elections Director Maria Matthews wrote in an email on May 15, two weeks after it was originally sent to 10,000 names.

Matthews acknowledged that it is not clear how the list of names was compiled or where the information came from.

“I don’t know exactly when the information was compiled and all sources were consulted to get this list,” he said.

The “concerned citizen” who sent the email on May 3 was Dan Heim, a longtime Florida activist who has come forward with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the state. He told Matthews in an email that he was working with a group that helped build a program called EagleAI (pronounced “Eagle Eye”), which promised to quickly sift through databases and data loaded with voter rolls and other records and find potential registrations. does. based on questionable other sources.

Its basis is a retired doctor, Dr. John W. “Rick” Richards Jr. laid by and rolled Last year to a group of conservative election activists at the Election Integrity Network. The group was founded by Cleta Mitchell, a former Trump campaign lawyer who has been a central figure in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Last year, a special Georgia grand jury unanimously recommended that he be indicted for his role in an attempt to overturn the state’s 2020 election. (He was not charged in the case.)

“The left is going to hate this,” Mitchell said during a demonstration of EagleAI to the Election Integrity Network last year. “They’re going to hate it. But we love it.”

The comments were made in videos of program screenings obtained by NBC News last year. Participating conservative activists were instructed to evaluate voter registration one by one, look up home addresses on Google Maps to see if the address looked like a home, search online obituaries, and prepare lists of suspicious registrations to report to local officials.

The use of EagleAI data to purge voter rolls has raised concerns with All Voting is Local Action, a multi-state voting rights group.

One letter The group, sent Friday morning and first obtained by NBC News, is asking Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd to tell local election officials to “disregard” the email containing the names of 10,000 voters, encouraging states to “not look at a list based on invalidity.” and unverified data, including EagleAI and similar databases,” and not to use the state election investigation office created by Gov. Ron DeSantis to make any communications that could be perceived as “improper or threatening.”

“The list does not provide any information about the source of the data or the methodology used to identify these voters,” reads the letter, signed by a collection of voting rights groups. “It is a felony for every voter in Florida to make frivolous solicitations, subject to illegal penalties.”

The letter was also signed by the NAACP, Common Cause Florida, the Legal Defense Fund and the Development Project.

The email to Matthews may also violate a state law that says someone challenging a voter’s eligibility must live in the same district as the voter, it is alleged. In that case, Heim could not challenge him unless he lived in the same county as every one of the 10,000 voters.

Florida’s All Vote Local Action Director Brad Ashwell told NBC News that allowing thousands of votes to be contested at once could cause election officials to sink their heels in pursuing false claims of potential voter fraud.

“This is a method of voter suppression and can overwhelm the electoral machinery at critical points,” he said. “EagleAI has been in our sights for some time and we were genuinely concerned to see this email. Not only because the state is sending this voter list to the supervisors, but basically subverting state laws on several fronts.”

His group also has a presence in seven key states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but he said Florida is the first state to move so far to include EagleAI data in its list storage. process.

Wesley Wilcox, superintendent of elections in Marion County, Florida, said 95% of the records identified in his county are records his office has already identified for voter registration — registrations that have already been expunged or are slated to be expunged by law. law.

The records were also mislabeled as “Martin County.”

“If they hold me to 100% accuracy, I believe I can expect the same accuracy,” he said.

Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White said the list she received from the state included a voter in her county who was potentially registered in another state.

“As a due diligence and in accordance with our standard operating procedures, we have reached out to another jurisdiction to determine if this is the same voter. We await further information and will take appropriate action based on our collective findings,” he said.

Neither Matthews nor the Florida Department of State responded to requests for comment.

The person who answered Heim’s phone number hung up after the NBC News reporter identified himself. Heim also did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Richards did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement last year, he emphasized that EagleAI does not make decisions about voter eligibility.

He said in an email that it “only shows voter registrations that need to be reviewed by election officials.”

Florida pulled out of another interstate recordkeeping program, the Electronic Enrollment Information Center (ERIC), more than a year ago after right-wing blogs spread conspiracy theories about the program. ERIC was administered by member states and used private, protected information such as driver’s license numbers to ensure accuracy when recording voter registration issues.

Heim himself has a long history of falsely promoting voter fraud allegations in Florida.

He is one of the leaders of the group calledDefend Florida,” traveled the state trying to document voter fraud and then used the false information he gathered to lobby state lawmakers to change Florida voter laws.

In 2022, he met with Florida Republican Senator Travis Hutson, trying to claim that his group had uncovered tens of thousands of cases of voter fraud in Florida. After weeks of asking the group to provide information, Hutson finally turned over just 230 names, none of which had committed voter fraud, according to an investigation by then-Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a Republican who is now a member of Congress. .

“They were in my office a lot,” Hutson recalled in an interview with NBC News on Thursday. “After asking for their information, they finally brought me a list of 230 votes that they said were cast illegally. It was not the tens of thousands they claimed.”

He said he relayed the information to Lee, who, after verification, said none of the listed voters voted more than once.

The group was saying things like “one person will vote in Miami and a few hours later [Florida] Panhandle,” Hutson said. “You can’t even drive for eight hours.”

When Matthews sent the email and its 10,000 voter names to local election officials, he made no mention of the group’s partisan ties or Heim’s long history of falsely promoting voter fraud allegations.

It simply requested an “action” based in part on EagleAI data.

“Please take whatever action you deem appropriate and helpful based on the information and current status of registered voters in your system,” he wrote.

Matt Dixon reported from Florida and Jane J. Timm reported from New York.



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