GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — According to an investigation performed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, Kim Barton, ran a prison outreach program to register inmates as voters in the 2020 election. Some of these were felons who have now either pled guilty to voting illegally or are under current prosecution for election-related crimes.
The FDLE’s investigation started when a private citizen contacted the agency, claiming that Kim Barton and her staff willfully facilitated the voter registration of felons – effectively targeting and misleading vulnerable individuals who would later get in trouble for voting illegally.
The investigation reveals that a now former employee of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, Thomas “TJ” Pyche, whose title was Director of Outreach, visited the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office jail on three occasions in 2020 for the purpose of “voter registration.”
“DIDN’T MATTER IF YOU WERE A CONVICTED FELON”
One of the inmates who registered to vote during Pyche’s jail visit, and who was later referred for prosecution of election-related crimes, was Kelvin Bolton. The investigation reads:
“Bolton stated the officers called all the inmates down to listen to the ACSOE representative and they had a high-ranking lieutenant with him so they were all ‘under the impression they weren't doing anything illegal’. The ACSOE representative told the inmates it didn't matter if you were a convicted felon before and he may have mentioned something about qualifications, but Bolton could not recall what they were. Bolton stated the ACSOE representative said nothing about previous convictions needing to be completed nor mentioned anything about having outstanding court costs and fees.”
Bolton also added: “Most of the time when a white guy comes into the jail house...and he got some information...most times he ain't lying about it...I'm pretty comfortable with it. ... why I did it."
Another inmate who was referred for prosecution was Arthur Lang. In the FDLE’s investigation, Lang indicates that the representative from the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections had said that “[…] if the inmates had not paid off their fines or restitution then they probably would not be able to vote.” But Lang also said that the representative had encouraged everyone to fill out registrations anyway and had said that the “Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office would ‘sort them out’, determine if they qualified and mail them a letter informing them if they qualify or what they needed to do to become qualified to vote.”
Another inmate’s story also indicates that Pyche may have used surreptitious or misleading tactics in the effort to register voters in the jail. John Rivers was also referred to prosecution for election-related crimes – False Swearing; submission of false voter registration information (F.S. 104.011) and Unqualified electors willfully voting (F.S. 104.15).
Rivers told the FDLE investigator:
“He came in, answered a few questions, and had the inmates put their name on a piece of paper if they were interested in voting. […] Rivers' impression of the ACSOE visit was that the ACSOE office would check and determine whether or not he was eligible to vote; and because he received the follow-up paperwork that meant he was eligible. Rivers confirmed he completed the voter registration application form himself on February 5, 2020 and affirmed on the form that he was not a convicted felon at the time or had his rights restored. Rivers believed his rights were restored since he received a packet from the ACSOE; therefore, he felt that he was correct when he checked the box of ‘I affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored.’”
INVOKED THE 5TH AMENDMENT
When the FDLE approached Pyche at his residence, he immediately retained a lawyer and invoked the 5th Amendment. He refused to cooperate with or provide any statement to the investigator. And the investigation ultimately didn’t refer any employee of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office for prosecution. Instead, the FDLE investigator opted to state:
“While it is ultimately incumbent upon the registrant to know their own personal circumstances before they affirm such statements, the overall conclusion from multiple inmate interviews was they were either told or believed they were able to legally register and/or vote. It was the ACSOE Director of Outreach Thomas "TJ" Pyche's role to educate the citizenry about the voting laws and regulations, to arm them with the best knowledge available to determine whether or not they are eligible to register and/or vote.”
So, although the investigation clearly suggests that there in fact has been wrongdoing – perhaps on a systematic scale – by representatives of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office, it ultimately dances around the issue and the investigators seem to quickly throw in the towel when one of the key persons of interest, Mr. Pyche, refuses to cooperate.
DEPENDENT ON THE FDLE’S CONCLUSIONS
State Attorney Brian Kramer of the 8th Judicial Circuit, who’s been prosecuting the election crimes cases referred to him by the FDLE, tells The Florida Standard that his office is completely dependent upon law enforcement’s investigations related to what kind of prosecutions they can bring.
“We’re not like the U.S. Attorney’s Office – we don’t run our own investigations. We’re a prosecutor of last resort. So, for example, if law enforcement decides to do a drive and focus on underage drinking… then, suddenly we have thousands of underage drinking cases to prosecute. We can’t be selective, so the cases we can bring… it’s completely in the hands of law enforcement,” Kramer explains.
“Now, if we look at this investigation into election crimes, the behavior of the Supervisor of Election staff was criticized by the FDLE – but they didn’t find it to be criminal. They didn’t refer any charges for Pyche, for example. So, unless law enforcement tells me that there’s a group… there’s an organization that’s operating with intent to register people who cannot legally vote – until they present that to me… there’s nothing that I can do,” Kramer says.
This is not the first or only time that Kim Barton and the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office have been criticized. For example, during August’s primary elections, two precincts in the county suddenly ran out of Republican ballots.
“I may be a Democrat but I’m elected by the people,” Barton recently told The Gainesville Sun, and added: “When I do this job, all the partisan stuff is out the door.”