- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security is requesting a criminal investigation into charges of ballot harvesting in Orlando, a Democratic stronghold in the critical swing state.

Cynthia Harris, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for District 6 commissioner in Orange County, which includes Orlando, provided a sworn complaint to the election crimes office claiming left-leaning organizations were perpetrating a scheme to encourage residents in Black neighborhoods to apply for and fill out mail-in ballots. The complaint said paid canvassers collected and sometimes altered those ballots in violation of state law.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Ms. Harris said she has video evidence of paid ballot harvesters operating in Orlando neighborhoods in 2014 and 2017 and that the scheme has been going on for decades, including through the 2020 elections and the 2022 primaries.

Ms. Harris said the operation is run by local Democratic agents. Funded by liberal groups, they mainly seek out the disabled and the elderly and urge them first to file for absentee ballots, which any voter in Florida can request. 

“They know a whole year ahead who they are going to target and who they’re going to prey upon,” Ms. Harris said. “They get them to fill out an absentee ballot request, usually a year ahead of time. Then they’ll knock on their doors, and they’ll say, ‘You received the absentee ballot, and we’re here to pick it up.’”

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The harvesting organizers pay $10 per ballot, Ms. Harris said, and they don’t just collect the envelopes.

According to Ms. Harris’ complaint, those who collect the ballots alter them if they don’t match the liberal organization’s desired candidate and steam open sealed envelopes to make changes. In some cases, they throw out ballots. 

Ms. Harris’ charge coincides with growing concerns about ballot harvesting after the 2020 elections. Conservative groups have made claims of widespread ballot harvesting in key swing states, including Georgia and Wisconsin, where Joseph R. Biden won the presidential vote by narrow margins. 

After Republicans made claims of election fraud, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in 2021 stipulating that only a relative can handle a voter’s mail-in ballot. He signed a second bill in April that increased the penalty for ballot harvesting from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and up to five years of probation.

The bill Mr. DeSantis signed in April also created the Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate fraud cases. 

The office conducted a preliminary investigation of Ms. Harris’ complaint this month and forwarded it to state law enforcement officials. 

Ms. Harris blamed her loss to fellow Democrat Mike Scott by just six votes in the August primary on a combination of ballot harvesting and irregularities during the vote counting. 

“I’m excited that someone’s finally hearing what has been said for a long time,” Ms. Harris said. 

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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