State Sen. Bobby Powell blasted The Palm Beach Post’s recent report on fraud in the 2016 August primary election Tuesday night, saying the reporting in a Sunday story “should be criminal.”
At a public forum, Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet took aim at The Post and State Attorney’s Office investigators looking into absentee ballot fraud in the primary election. Detectives found nearly two dozen fraudulent signatures on absentee ballot request forms but couldn’t identify a suspect, The Post reported.
“It’s distasteful,” Powell told the audience of roughly 80 people. “It should be criminal that newspapers can print something like that and implicate.”
Jacquet took aim at the detectives who questioned voters, calling their behavior “criminal” and “unconstitutional.” Fourteen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives were assigned to interview voters.
“Someone comes to your door in uniform, bangs on your door and says, ‘Who did you vote for? How did you vote for them? Why did you vote for them? Did they give you anything to vote for them?'” Jacquet said. “This is not only criminal, this is unconstitutional civil rights violations. This is singling out one group of folks and literally intimidating them, suppressing their right to vote.”
Powell said the story was “flawed.”
“The story was not truthful, and it was done in order to damage the credibility of myself, (County Commissioner) Mack Bernard and Al Jacquet,” he said.
Jacquet received enthusiastic applause after he said that voter suppression tactics wouldn’t work in the next election.
“I guarantee you that’s not going to happen,” Jacquet said. “We’re just getting started.”
The Post on Sunday reported that prosecutors were ending their investigation into voter fraud in the August primary, despite finding 22 people whose signatures were forged on absentee ballot request forms.
The reason the case was dropped is because the lead detectives on the case, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant and West Palm Beach detective assigned to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, couldn’t find a suspect.
Detectives didn’t follow up on basic leads, didn’t interview people who might have known about the fraud and waited eight months before following up with voters who made complaints.
Detectives also never followed up on The Post’s March story, in which voters said Jacquet and Bernard went into their homes, helped them fill out their ballots and collected them. Collecting other people’s ballots is a felony, the report states.
Powell, who said he brought copies of the report to Tuesday’s forum, said that the state attorney’s report does not “in any point indicate that our campaigns were under investigation.”
The report does not mention Powell, and only mentions Bernard and Jacquet briefly.
But 17 of the 22 victims, which included a state attorney’s employee and her three family members, were in a narrow area where Jacquet’s, Powell’s and Bernard’s districts intersect.
And the only “person of interest” in the case was Delano Allen, whom detectives never interviewed. He was seen on video dropping off bundles of absentee ballot request forms.
Detectives never mentioned in their report that Allen is Powell’s longtime legislative aide.
Powell on Tuesday came to Allen’s defense, saying that other people must have been dropping off ballot request forms for other campaigns, too.
“Delano Allen is my legislative aide,” he said, gesturing toward Allen. “In the paper they indicated that he dropped off ballot requests, almost saying that’s illegal. I’m sure that during the election season, that many Democratic clubs, Republican clubs, many other people dropped off absentee ballot requests. But when it came down to implicating him as to turning in one ballot, he turned in none. That was not reported. Unacceptable.”
It’s not illegal to drop off ballot request forms. The report does not mention Allen turning in absentee ballots. That would be illegal.
After he made his remarks, Powell criticized a Post reporter, telling the reporter that the newspaper didn’t mention that detectives found six fraudulent absentee ballots, which were from outside his district.
But detectives actually found that the ballots were not fraudulent.
“It was determined that 6 absentee ballots were possibly altered, forged, or obtained in a fraudulent way,” the report states. “It was determined through the course of the investigation that there was no criminal activity associated with these absentee ballots.”
After Powell spoke, Jacquet questioned why the three Democrats were even singled out for absentee ballots.
“When you go to the division of elections and see the number of absentee ballots that counted in the recent election, the number has continued to skyrocket, because voters are now realizing that they don’t have to stand in line for two, three hours,” he said. “Why single out one group?”
But the candidates’ performance in absentee ballots was well above normal. Their opponents cried foul, and elections experts considered the results suspicious.
In some precincts, Bernard and Jacquet won nine of every 10 absentee ballots cast. They also drastically outperformed the top-ticket U.S. Senate candidates. In one Boynton Beach precinct, for example, 135 more people voted for Jacquet than for all the U.S. Senate candidates combined.
“When you have that type of down-ballot voting that exceeds the top of the ticket, it raises some suspicions,” University of Florida professor Daniel Smith told The Post in March.
Tuesday’s event was intended to give constituents a wrap-up of the Legislative session. But Powell said they first had to address the “elephant in the room.”
The audience included various local elected officials and former candidates, including Edwin Ferguson, a lawyer who lost to Jacquet in the August Democratic primary.
Ferguson actually beat Jacquet at the polls by 132 votes. But Jacquet’s extraordinary 1,167-vote edge in absentee votes easily won him the race.
Ferguson, who is running for the county School Board District 7 seat, declined to address the controversy on Wednesday.
“We came up short,” Ferguson said. “We’ll try to do better next time.”