Residents of a public housing building in Miami say their voter registrations were unknowingly changed from Democrat to Republican after being visited by GOP canvassers, WPLG Local 10 News reported on Wednesday. The vice chair of the state Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee told Rolling Stone on Thursday that she is requesting an investigation.
“Is this something that is happening in other places?” state Sen. Annettte Taddeo, a Democrat, said over the phone after the leaving the Senate floor on Thursday. “I don’t know, that’s the reason for the request for the investigation. We need to know if this is an entire program they’ve been doing.”
The report follows a December story about an unidentified 84-year-old woman in the same complex, Haley Sofge Towers, who was duped last fall. WPLG Local 10 News confirmed that the woman’s party affiliation was changed by a third-party voter registration organization, which regularly canvas neighborhoods to help people register to vote, and that the third-party organization was the Republican Party of Florida. The woman’s granddaughter says she and her grandmother discovered the change when her grandmother received a new voter registration card in the mail, and that neither gave permission for the party change.
Taddeo says that her office began receiving calls after the initial incident was reported in December. “We started getting phone calls in my office from people saying the same thing happened to me. We talked to those people, we talked to other people. People even shared pictures with us, of the forms, of their former voter registration registration card and their new voter registration card.”
Taddeo sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a Republican, requesting an investigation, but says she did not receive a response. Secretary Lee did not confirm whether she received the request. “Governor DeSantis and I have made elections integrity a top priority,” she said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. “Reports like this are why the Office of Elections Crimes and Security proposed by Governor Ron DeSantis is an important step forward for protecting voters and elections in Florida. We want to review ALL claims and ensure that those who engage in elections activity follow Florida’s Election Code.”
The letter sent Thursday is addressed instead to the supervisor of the Miami-Dade Elections Department. “It no longer appears that this was an isolated incident but a targeted effort to swindle one of our most vulnerable populations: our elders,” the letter read.
The many calls my office has received from elderly in our community having their voter registration CHANGED without their knowledge is truly unacceptable. I’ve now sent a letter to the @MDCElections Supervisor to formally investigate this matter. pic.twitter.com/1noWaY3oGW
— Senator Annette Taddeo (She/Her/Ella) (@SenatorTaddeo) February 3, 2022
The report published Wednesday by WPLG Local 10 News includes multiple accounts of residents who say they were scammed. “They said, ‘We’re doing the renewals on the voter registration, would you like to renew?’ resident Armando Selva told the outlet of the people knocking on doors of the building in Republican Party of Florida hats. “I didn’t do anything, but they changed the party,” added resident Juan Carlos Salazar, who said he was sent a new voter registration identifying him as a Republican.
“Every one of them has said they have been Democrats their entire life,” says Taddeo. “They weren’t trying to switch. It’s very concerning.”
It’s especially concerning considering the state’s closed-primary system. Taddeo notes that any of the voters whose affiliation was changed from Democrat to Republican would not be eligible to vote in Democratic primaries.
The Republican Party of Florida did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone, but in December the party’s executive director, Helen Aguirre Ferre, told WPLG Local 10 News that the party “conducts its voter registration operation in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.”
“Voters are free to register to a political party at anytime or may choose not join a political party at all,” Ferre added. “It is up to the individual to decide. At no time was [the 84-year-old woman’s] voter registration changed without the registrant’s permission. She filled the application out herself and signed the document as the process requires.”
The woman’s granddaughter told WPLG Local 10 News that though the woman signed the paperwork, she did not realize she was changing her registration. It is unclear who checked the party affiliation box on the form.
In November 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that registered Republicans in Florida outnumbered Democrats for the first time. The milestone was the result of a concerted voter registration push that helped the party close a 24,000-registration gap that existed in August. As the vice chair of the state’s Ethics and Elections Committee, Taddeo has been fighting DeSantis’ effort to suppress the vote in Florida — which has even included the proposed creation of a new election police force, drawing concern from voting rights advocates.
“If the governor is not worried about his reelection,” Taddeo says, “if this is just a done deal and everybody should just walk away because Democrats aren’t going to win no matter what, why are they working overtime to try to change voters’ registration, to make sure voting is harder, to make sure all of these things are put in the way of people exercising their right to vote, particularly minorities?”
This post has been updated.