MADISON, Fla. (AP) — Lawyers seeking dismissal of voting fraud and related charges against four north Florida residents on Wednesday cited the state Supreme Court’s refusal to throw out thousands of absentee ballots after Republican activists added information to them in the 2000 presidential election.
The attorneys argued that allegations their clients obtained about 45 absentee ballots for other Madison County voters without proper authorization in a 2010 school board election was an even lesser technical violation of state law.
Yet, they are facing possible prison time while 12 years ago none of the Republicans was charged with a crime, defense lawyer Robert Cox said. He said the state was “bootstrapping” violations of a civil law to the state’s election fraud law, which is intended for such violations as casting ballots for dead people or other unauthorized voters. Nothing like that happened in Madison County, Cox said.
“All these people were intending to do was try to get the vote out,” he said. “There was no intention to do anything evil.”
Circuit Judge Julian Collins did not immediately make a decision, saying he needed time to re-examine the motions and study case law.
Nine people were charged last year in connection with the alleged absentee ballot scheme including Madison County Supervisor of Elections Jada Woods Williams and school board member Abra “Tina” Hill Johnson, both now suspended.
Williams is facing misdemeanor negligence charges and her case has been moved to Tallahassee. Two defendants have settled their cases through pretrial intervention.
The remaining six defendants including Johnson, who won by a mere 28 votes, are facing felony election fraud charges. Some also have been charged with perjury and making false reports to law enforcement.
Johnson’s case and that of her husband, Ernest Sinclair Johnson Jr., were not heard Wednesday because their lawyer was too ill to attend.
It wasn’t part of their legal argument, but the defendants, all black, and their lawyers have said out of court they believe the state investigation that led to the charges was part of an effort to suppress minority voting.
Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman acknowledged the defendants obtained ballots for people who wanted them and that the voters were able to cast their ballots for the candidates of their choice.
Cappleman, though, argued obtaining ballots without voters’ authorization, and in some cases having them sent to a third-party address, was still illegal and a jury should decide if they are committed crimes.
“This isn’t a minor irregularity in the distribution of ballots,” she said. “This is a fraud as evidenced by the fact that these folks lied about what they did.”
Cox and Jasmine Rand, another defense lawyer, cited the Supreme Court’s decision to allow 15,000 absentee ballots to be counted in GOP-leaning Seminole County 12 years ago. In that case election officials had allowed Republican operatives to write in missing identification numbers on previously submitted absentee ballots without the voters’ knowledge.
That was a mistake, the justices ruled, but they allowed the ballots to be counted because there was no evidence of fraud, gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing.
“The test is does the person intend to vote for who they voted for?” Cox said. “And if they did, these technical requirements are merely directive, not mandatory. And, George Bush became president of the United States.”
Bush won Florida’s 25 electoral votes, which he needed to secure the presidency, by 537 votes.
Cox is representing Montollis Roberson, a nurse who lost her job after she was arrested. Roberson obtained ballots for two sisters at the request of one of the women. She was charged with obtaining the ballot for the second woman, who had been asleep at the time, without her permission. In another instance she was accused of obtaining a voter’s permission to get an absentee ballot but having someone else deliver it.
Others seeking dismissal of their charges are Judy Ann Crumitie, Laverne Haynes and Raven Williams.
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