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January 8, 2005
Absentee Shenanigans In Florida Exposed

Florida has granted immunity to a well-traveled political consultant that has implicated politicians of both parties in illegal absentee brokering:

A campaign consultant said he was hired by several Florida politicians over the past seven years to gather absentee ballots during their elections, a violation of state law.

Ezzie Thomas, who has been granted immunity, told prosecutors that he was paid numerous times since 1998 to gather absentee ballots, most recently by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's campaign last year, his attorney said Friday.

Thomas told prosecutors four months ago that he was hired to do similar work for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez when he ran for Orange County chairman in 1998, Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood's 2000 campaign for Orlando mayor, and two other minor campaigns.

Florida made it illegal in 1998 to pay or accept money "for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, delivering or otherwise physically possessing absentee ballots." The law was passed after the 1997 Miami mayor's race was marred by allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

This promises to provide embarassment more than legal risk for the candidates involved. Florida may grant Thomas immunity, but in order to prove criminal action on behalf of any candidate, the prosecutor will need to establish a clear intent to break the absentee law on the part of the campaign. Short of getting such orders on tape or in writing, the burden of proof will likely be insurmountable.

As my friend Brian "Saint Paul" Ward reminded us during our radio show today, elections routinely have mistakes and petty frauds that only become issues when election results are uncommonly close. This case also reminds us that the frauds sometimes go beyond the petty, and that the states must prosecute those responsible when uncovered. I question the immunity grant in this case for the man who perpetrated the fraud -- indeed, was known for it -- in favor of the possibility of a few more dicey prosecutions that will probably only get headlines rather than convictions.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 8, 2005 9:33 PM

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