Alleged "sabotage" of petition gathering

Florida: gaming expansion supporters drop lawsuit against Seminole-backed groups, seek extension for signatures

Marcellus Osceola, Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
2022-02-01
Reading time 2:49 min

Lawyers for the political committee Florida Voters in Charge, which is seeking to expand gambling in the state, have dropped a lawsuit against Seminole-linked opponents accused of allegedly trying to “sabotage” the petition gathering effort. In addition, the group failed to submit the required signatures by Feb. 1 deadline and is now seeking to gain an extension.

The political committee, which has received about $50 million from gaming giant Las Vegas Sands Corp., 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.

Following two months of fierce legal battling, supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment filed a notice of dismissal on Monday in Leon County circuit court, reports CBS Miami. The notice did not explain the reasons for the decision, which came a day before a deadline to submit petition signatures to the state Division of Elections.

The Florida Voters in Charge committee first filed a lawsuit on December 1 alleging that parties linked to the Seminole Tribe of Florida attempted to sabotage the petition drive by, among other means, paying people to stop gathering signatures.

An amended version of the lawsuit was subsequently filed on December 7, in which the committee alleged parties acting on behalf of the Seminole Tribe went as far as engaging in “aggressive efforts to harass and intimidate” individuals obtaining signatures for the petition drive.

In their lawsuits, Florida Voters in Charge claimed “tortious interference with business relationships.” Other alleged sabotage efforts included hiring workers to interfere with petition gatherers and running an informal signature-gathering operation, aimed at confusing voters.

However, the Seminole-backed committee Standing Up for Florida, which opposes the proposed gambling expansion, fired back at the claims, alleging that signatures gathered had mostly been “illegally” obtained.

Lawyers for the entities linked to the Seminoles accused backers of the ballot initiative of breaking the law, alleging state elections laws were violated in the petition drive. Defendants denounced attempts to hide information: heavily redacted contracts were allegedly provided during the trial to hide an “illegal compensation scheme” for how circulators were paid.

Moreover, Standing Up for Florida accused backers of the petition drive of engaging in “a widespread, election-law conspiracy” in the race to gather signatures. Documents filed on behalf of the committee alleged that petition gatherers were being paid by the signature, a violation of Florida law.

Additionally, court filings maintained that a contractor illegally disposed of petitions that were either incomplete or erroneous, in an effort to avoid being financially penalized by the Florida Voters in Charge committee.

Florida Voters in Charge’s lawsuit was dismissed “without prejudice.” This left open the possibility that the committee could refile the claims in the future, which it ultimately now decided not to do.

To get on the November ballot, the committee had to submit 891,589 valid petition signatures by a Tuesday deadline. Florida Voters In Charge ultimately failed to do so, providing 814,266 verified signatures, about 77,000 less than the amount required statewide, while also falling short of the minimum required per congressional district (the committee was short in 17 out of 27 districts).

The organization behind the petition drive is now suing for more time, reports Florida Politics. Florida Voters In Charge filed on Monday a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court contending it had turned in the required amount of signatures, but alleging state law was poorly administered by Florida, with county supervisors of elections causing the initiative to fail.

The political committee is now challenging Florida law provisions regarding petition signature verification, and has asked a judge to waive the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. As it currently stands, anything not processed by the deadline is thrown out.

“We believe we have submitted the required number of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but unlawful delays in processing them will lead to voters not having their voices heard,” Florida Voters In Charge said in a statement issued Tuesday. “This lawsuit was filed to ensure fundamental rights are not violated and every voter signature is counted.”

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