PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections was the first to sound the alarm about petition fraud in the push to expand gambling in Florida. Now more Tampa Bay area election supervisors are reporting a flood of invalid petitions.
That means some people are breaking the rules, trying to manipulate the petition process. 8 On Your Side wants to know what’s being done to stop it.
Last week, 8 On Your Side found evidence that many of the people signing constitutional amendment petition forms don’t exist. Now we’ve learned, some of the people in charge of getting the signatures don’t exist either and that’s against the law.
“These are not the voices of our voters,” said Julie Marcus, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
Marcus was the first to sound the alarm about likely phony petitions for a proposed amendment to expand casino gaming. Now, 8 On Your Side has learned the suspected fraud extends to at least six Tampa Bay area counties.
It’s believed petitioners are trying to manipulate the process by filing fake forms instead of gathering the signatures of real voters.
“What’s happening is, you potentially have a person creating people and filling out forms and pretending as though they’re voters,” said Marcus.
By law, the people who get paid to collect signatures must register with the Florida Department of State, giving their name and address.
Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi got the information for two petitioners accused of committing a crime against voters and she went to track them down. 8 On Your Side found no property at either address.
The Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s website confirms, there’s no parcel at either location. It appears criminals aren’t just filing fake petition forms with Supervisors of Elections but also fake addresses and identities with the state.
On Wednesday, 8 On Your Side reached out to Secretary Laurel Lee’s office to see who is watching over this process and are still awaiting comment.
Authorities say multiple criminal investigations are underway in different jurisdictions.
If you have a story for Mahsa to investigate, please send an email to MSaeidi@WFLA.com.