ORLANDO – Three political candidates for local office are calling for an investigation into requests made for absentee ballots, as they accused two incumbents – Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Samuel Ings – of using their office to stack the deck in their favor.
“It is very clear this is an incumbent protection plan, and it’s tainting the votes of the people,” said Mayoral candidate Mike Cantone, who is challenging Dyer. Another mayoral candidate, Ken Mulvaney, added, “All’s we’re looking for in the city of Orlando is a fair election.”
Lawanna Gelzer, a candidate for the District 6 City Commission district seat that Ings now holds, added, “We just want a fair election, where the best candidate will win.”
Gelzer, Cantone and Mulvaney held a press conference today in front of the office of the Orange County Work Release Center. That location was chosen at the last minute because it’s across the street from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office on Kaley Avenue. The candidates had to move the press conference when they were asked not to place television camera crews in the Supervisor of Elections parking lot.
The press conference was delayed by nearly a half hour when a CSX train remained stationary as it was reloaded, and Mulvaney was stuck in traffic within walking distance of the Work Release Center. When the press conference finally did start, Gelzer said they scheduled it because they’re calling on Gov. Rick Scott to investigate requests for thousands of absentee ballots in the city.
Gelzer said they began to suspect possible voter fraud when they discovered that a lot of requests for absentee ballots in Orlando’s District 6 and District 5 wards were made to the Supervisor of Elections office by an employee in Ings’ office, Sandra Lewis.
“Her name appears on top of each absentee request,” Gelzer said. “We were very concerned that these requests were coming from someone else,” other than the person who would be filling it out, she said.
“She has to be related to all of these individuals” before she can make a request on their behalf, Gelzer added.
The three candidates began inspecting the absentee request forms, and said they found discrepancies that included signatures that didn’t match the person requesting the ballot, a date of birth either left blank or false, and requests from voters who were not actually registered in these districts.
“We’re still working on the rest of them,” she said, but added that in the meantime, “We sent a letter to the governor asking for an independent audit.”
Gelzer said Lewis and Ezzi Thomas are paid campaign workers for Ings. “He’s paid to do get-out-the-vote,” Gelzer said of Thomas.
Making a fake request for an absentee ballot, Gelzer said, is a third degree felony, and she added that she has her own personal history with this issue.
“I ran in District 6 before,” she said. “I lost by eight votes because of absentee ballots.”
Orlando’s election is on April 3. Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles began mailing out absentee ballots for that municipal election today.
“These can affect other races, like the mayor’s race,” Gelzer said of the absentee ballots. “I ask that these ballots not be mailed until we can get an investigation. All we want is a fair election.”
If the absentee ballots get mailed and had been requested fraudulently, she said, “This is disenfranchising the voters.”
This scenario may sound familiar to longtime city voters. There were similar allegations eight years ago, following a race between Dyer and Mulvaney, which Dyer won. After the 2004 election, Mulvaney alleged election fraud, and an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement led a grand jury to file charges against the mayor, his campaign manager and an election consultant. They were charged with paying someone to collect absentee ballots in Orlando’s black community. Following the grand jury indictment, Dyer was suspended by Gov. Jeb Bush in March 2005, but he got reinstated a month later after the charges were dismissed.
Cantone noted that history during the press conference, saying “It looks like they’re up to the same tricks again.”
He added that if no one has done anything wrong, the Dyer administration should welcome an investigation into these ballot requests.
“All we’re calling for is an open investigation and honest dialogue on this,” Cantone said. “We have to have clarity in our elections.”
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