Florida investigates GOP-backed voter registration consulting firm
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced it has opened a criminal probe to investigate Strategic Allied Consulting. The Republican-hired firm has been registering new voters in Florida, but some of its voter registrations forms have been called 'suspicious.'
Authorities in¬†Florida¬†opened a criminal probe on Wednesday into the activities of¬†Strategic Allied Consulting, the firm hired by the Republican Party to register new voters in the crucial swing state ahead of next month's presidential election.
The¬†Florida Department of Law Enforcement¬†said there was enough evidence to warrant a full-blown investigation of Strategic Allied, a¬†Virginia-based voter registration company doing work for the¬†Republican National Committee¬†and the¬†Republican Party of Florida.
The¬†Florida Division of Elections¬†on Friday forwarded a complaint to the law enforcement agency after reports of suspicious voter registration forms linked to the company first surfaced in¬†Palm Beach County.
Both the¬†Republican National Committee¬†and¬†Republican Party¬†of¬†Florida¬†cut ties with the company as soon as the allegations surfaced last week, and the number of¬†Florida¬†counties reporting suspicious registration forms connected to Strategic Allied Consulting has since grown to at least 10.
Most political analysts say¬†Florida, the fourth most populous US state and notorious for its close elections, including the 2000 cliff-hanger that put¬†George W. Bush¬†in the¬†White House, is a must-win for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in November's presidential sweepstakes.
Of all the closely contested battleground states in the presidential election,¬†Florida¬†is the biggest prize with 29 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win.
"After reviewing this complaint, FDLE has decided that a criminal investigation into these allegations is warranted," said¬†Florida Department of Law Enforcement¬†(FDLE) spokeswoman¬†Gretl Plessinger¬†in an email. "This is now an active investigation."
The¬†Florida Department of State¬†also sent an e-mail to the state's 67 county supervisors of elections late on Tuesday instructing them to review all the voter registration forms filed by the¬†Republican party.
"At some point, these registrations may become evidence used in court, so it is important for you to take steps to protect them from tampering," the email said.
The work required by the criminal probe may strain the resources of county election officials who are already receiving thousands of absentee ballots and must prepare for a deluge of voters on Nov. 6.
The firm was also hired to do voter registration work for the party in four other key swing states -¬†Nevada,¬†Virginia,Colorado, and¬†North Carolina¬†- for a total of $2.9 million, according to the¬†Republican National Committee.
In a statement late last week, Strategic Allied criticized "likely libelous comments" by the¬†Florida Republican Partyabout its efforts in the state amid allegations of voter fraud.
Alarm over potential voter registration fraud in¬†Florida¬†in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election was first raised by¬†PalmBeach County Elections Supervisor¬†Susan Bucher, who flagged 106 "questionable" applications turned in by Strategic Allied this month.
Bucher - whose county introduced hanging chads and butterfly ballots to the political lexicon during the 2000 presidential election debacle in¬†Florida¬†- said her staff had raised questions about suspiciously similar signatures and incorrect addresses and dates of birth on voter registration forms.
Submitting deliberately false voter registration information, or altering information on an application without consent, is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Tom Brown, Todd Eastham and Lisa Shumaker)