Feb 7, 2022 - Politics

Voter fraud group's clout rises, without evidence

A group of people stand with signs while a woman speaks at a podium

Defend Florida co-founder Caroline Wetherington speaks at a rally in Tampa on Thursday. Photo: Zac Anderson/USA TODAY NETWORK

An influential pro-Trump group formed in the wake of last year's Jan. 6 attack appears to have convinced GOP lawmakers that Florida needs a sweeping purge of its voter roles.

The rub: The group hasn't yet produced any evidence of voter fraud to county elections supervisors, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

Why it matters: If you expected the cries of election fraud to die down in a state that went easily for former President Trump and had no significant voting controversies, here we are over a year later.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis dedicated a chunk of his State of the State speech last month to beefing up election integrity because Defend Florida and others have made voter fraud the rallying cry for a new wave of political activism already impacting the 2022 midterms.

What's happening: Republican lawmakers, who last year passed a law that restricts mail voting, filed another elections bill last week that includes measures Defend Florida is pushing for.

Senate Bill 524 would:

  • Require elections supervisors to conduct voter list maintenance every year, instead of every other year.
  • Create a new state office to investigate election fraud.
  • Require individuals submitting mail ballots to include more personal identifying information.

The big picture: The group, which helped coordinate an April rally featuring Michael Flynn and Roger Stone that attracted white nationalists, claims to have 5,571 affidavits alleging "voting irregularities" across Florida.

  • Group founder Caroline Wetherington, a California realtor who's married to Sarasota luxury home builder Lee Wetherington, told the H-T that the physical evidence takes up 17 binders.

Yes, but: County elections supervisors told the Herald-Tribune that the group has not produced a single affidavit.

  • Wetherington's response: She said she asked the group's "county level people" to take the affidavits to their elections supervisors, but they're "not employees" and she can't force them to.

What they're saying: "If you've got an affidavit and you're alleging fraud, let's go clean it up," said Marion County Elections Supervisor Wesley Wilcox, who heads a group representing all 67 county supervisors, per the H-T. "But by you alleging it and then not showing proof, what does that do to the average person?"

Flashback: Defend Florida was formed by Wetherington and Sarasota resident Raj Doraisamy, who were both at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but did not go inside the building.

The latest: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate a WPLG Local 10 report that more than 5,000 elderly registered Democrats in Miami-Dade County had their party affiliation switched to Republican without their permission.


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