Ballot intiative

Florida election officials report "hundreds" of fraudulent petitions in Sands-backed gaming expansion proposal

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee first took note of the petition drive in December.
United States
Reading time 2:34 min

Florida election supervisors are citing fraudulent signatures on a Las Vegas Sands-backed petition drive to expand gaming in the state. Local media reports Florida could be in the midst of one of the largest cases of election-related fraud in recent history, with thousands of fraudulent petition forms having been supplied to supervisors.

Sands-backed committee Florida Voters in Charge is seeking to allow existing card rooms to become casinos if they are located 130 miles from tribal facilities. The amendment would open the door to casinos in North Florida, along the Interstate 10 corridor, and is geared toward a facility in the Jacksonville area.

In order to put the initiative on the November ballot, the committee is racing against time to submit 891,589 valid petition signatures by February 1. But now it has been revealed that thousands of the signatures provided thus far could be fraudulent: many include the names of dead people or forged signatures of real voters, informs Miami Herald.

In addition to fraudulent petition forms, parties opposing the gaming expansion have also accused organizers of setting up an illegal compensation scheme, paying petition gatherers by the signature instead of by the hour, which implies a violation of Florida law. 

According to the cited news source, the petition drive first caught the attention of Secretary of State Laurel Lee last year. In a December 3 letter, her office referred claims of fraudulent petitions by six county elections supervisors to Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Florida Voters in Charge has denied any effort to illegally push for the ballot initiative. Jim McKee, attorney for the committee, called the idea of purposely submitting fraudulent petitions “ridiculous,” as it would not help the effort “in any way.” 

He further noted state law requires to submit every petition received, while not being allowed to screen them. McKee has encouraged law enforcement “to investigate any petitions of concern,” which all identify the individual who collected it.

Lee’s letter from last month mentioned “hundreds” of suspected fraudulent petitions, submitted by more than a dozen gatherers across the state from Oct. 14 to Dec. 1. The letter noted a provision of state law that would allow the attorney general to stop the suspect fraud without having to wait for law enforcement to build a criminal case, which Moody ultimately did not take.

Moody’s office said that once the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reviews the case, the Office of Statewide Prosecutor would review its findings, reports Tampa Bay Times. Organizers for Las Vegas Sands said they were not aware of any investigation by the attorney general’s office. A spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis’ office said that the matter had been referred to Moody’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The new development follows an ongoing court battle between organizers for Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe, which opposes the gambling expansion, over the ballot initiative. Sands had accused the tribe of attempting to “sabotage” the petition drive by, among other means, paying people to stop gathering signatures.

But parties linked to the Seminoles, at the same time, accused Sands in court of having “corrupted” the petition process throughout Florida “by blatantly violating” civil and criminal laws, in an effort to secure “illicit access” to the state’s ballots.

The news on suspected fraudulent petition forms further complicates the Sands-back petition drive. Wilcox, the Marion County elections supervisor, said he found his forged signature on a form and that gatherers have been dropping bundles of forms by the thousands at his office, but sometimes more than 80% “can’t be verified.”

As each petition includes the name of the circulator, along with an attestation the information is true under penalty of perjury, some petition circulators could face serious jail time, potentially up to 40 years. The secretary of state’s memo included suspected complaint forms from Duval, Gulf, Pinellas, Marion, Brevard and Bradford counties.

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