At the center of one of the most widely publicized public corruption cases in Palm Beach County history, Kevin McCarty’s name is one that rarely goes unrecognized these days. And yet it failed to ring a single bell in the Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor’s Office recently, when elections workers sent McCarty a brand-new voter registration card – little more than a year after returning home from prison and despite a felon status that makes him constitutionally ineligible to vote.
This at a time when the state and federal government continue to do battle, suing each other even, over how best to purge local voter rolls of those who have no right to vote. Clearly, it’s an issue Palm Beach County hasn’t figured out yet.
When asked how such a well-known felon could be sent a new voter registration card, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said: “I didn’t even know his first name was Lawrence. I don’t look up felons in the newspaper. This is another instance of bad voter data by the state.”
McCarty pleaded guilty to “misprison of a felony” in 2009, a legal term that means he failed to stop his wife, former County Commissioner Mary McCarty, from committing what federal prosecutors charge were illegal acts of public corruption. Sentenced to eight months in federal prison, he was released from custody in January 2010.
Sometime last year, McCarty said, he received a letter advising him he was ineligible to vote as a convicted felon whose rights have not been restored, though the letter added that if the information was wrong, he could appeal. Not expecting to have his rights restored anytime soon, McCarty said, he threw the letter away and never gave it another thought.
Imagine his surprise, then, when he received a spanking-new voter registration card in the mail last week.
Images of Voter Registration Card
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According to Bucher, her office was not notified by the state of McCarty’s felon status, and she has no record of her office sending him a letter.
“He didn’t get a letter from us,” she said. “We were never notified about him.”
Officials with the Florida Division of Elections did not return repeated calls for comment.
It may be easy to ask, Why would the elections office have to be notified about the felon status of someone so publicly charged and imprisoned? But as a matter of process, whether McCarty got such a letter is an important detail because it speaks to a possible weakness in the system.
State law requires that the Florida Division of Elections send a notice of felon status upon conviction to the local elections supervisor after being notified by the appropriate agency — in McCarty’s federal case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
It is the county elections supervisor who sends those correspondences, so if McCarty got the letter he remembers getting, it would have to mean it was sent by Bucher’s office – the same office that sent McCarty a new voter registration card.
Bucher sent me an email saying she has asked the state to conduct a formal records search on the McCarty registration to see if her office was ever notified.
If McCarty’s memory is faulty, and he did not receive a letter, that leaves two possibilities that are just as troubling: The U.S. Attorney’s Office never notified the Florida Department of Elections of his felon status, or it did and state elections officials never notified Bucher.
None of these scenarios inspires confidence in the system, because each points to a critical breakdown in a process designed to make sure people who are ineligible to vote don’t get access to the ballot box. There’s no question, someone screwed up – either the feds, the state or the constitutional officer sworn to protect the integrity of our elections.
And if someone with so prominent a name as Kevin McCarty can get a voter ID card so easily, it’s not hard to imagine there’s a bunch of other felons who mistakenly got the same – and perhaps weren’t so inclined to throw it in the trash.
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