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Miami-Dade prosecutor: There are active investigations of voter registration orgs


Miami-Dade prosecutor: There are active investigations of voter registration orgs

Apr 08, 2024 | 5:38 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
Miami-Dade prosecutor: There are active investigations of voter registration orgs
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A Miami-Dade County public corruption prosecutor testified Monday that his unit is running active investigations against third-party voter registration organizations, but he did not specify which groups it was targeting.

The testimony from Tim VanderGiesen, chief of the Public Corruption Unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, came in a lawsuit by multiple third-party voter registration organizations (otherwise known as 3PVROs) challenging restrictions imposed under a 2023 law.

The law in question is SB 7050, which went into effect in July. Under the law, noncitizens and people who’ve been convicted of felony election and identity theft crimes can’t handle voter registration applications. There are no exceptions for people who are permanent residents of the U.S. or hold work permits or those who have won restoration of their civil and voting rights.

The groups must submit the voter applications 10 days before the registration deadline for the next election. The deadline used to be 14 days. Another restriction bars the groups from keeping any information about the people they help register to vote.

The plaintiffs in the suit include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP, Equal Ground Education Fund, Voters of Tomorrow Action, Disability Rights Florida, Alianza for Progress, and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

How does Miami-Dade handle election complaints?

Attorneys defending Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd and the state’s 67 county supervisors of elections in the trial called VanderGiesen to explain how his unit investigates voter registration complaints. VanderGiesen said the most common complaints involve seemingly fake information on voter registration applications, attempts to register deceased people, and a switch in the voter’s registered party.

“The record-keeping is not always that good,” VanderGiesen said, referring to one of the obstacles to investigating complaints about third-party groups.

The judge presiding over the case, Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, asked how much of the Public Corruption Unit’s work was devoted to election laws. While VanderGiesen refrained from giving a number or a percentage, he said it was not a large portion of the unit’s work.

“Complaints increase during presidential election years,” he said.

But even with a higher number of complaints, only a small percentage of investigations lead to prosecutions, VanderGiesen testified, clarifying that corruption and fraud cases are hard to bring to court. The prosecutor said a provision under the 2023 law that would require canvassers to hand out a receipt with their information to voters they help register would help in their investigations of complaints.

When asked by one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys whether he knew whether any of the people associated with any 3PVRO they investigated were noncitizens, VanderGiesen responded that the unit didn’t gather that data.

Groups say the law discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters

Even though Walker enjoined the parts of the law preventing the retention of information and barring noncitizens from handling voter registrations in July 2023, the groups argue that their operations have been severely limited. A leader of the Florida NAACP testified that the organization had stopped voter registration drives altogether because of fears they would have to pay up to $250,000 in fines under the law.

An expert witness for the defense, political science professor Robert Stein of Rice University, testified Monday over Zoom that it is not possible to tell at this time whether SB 7050 discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters, as the voter registration groups allege. Stein said that conclusion would require analyzing the total number of non-white voters who were eligible to register during 2023, which numbers are not yet available.

However, Stein agreed that 3PVROs register more Black and Hispanic voters than white voters and that other methods of voter registration could not be perfect substitutes for the work 3PVROs do.