Brown cites ballot fraud, asks to delay Riviera vote

RIVIERA BEACH The city clerk should cancel Tuesday's runoff election in light of allegations of absentee ballot fraud against Mayor-elect Thomas Masters, according to an election protest filed by ousted Mayor Michael Brown.

Brown, who lost to Masters on March 13, filed the request late Wednesday at city hall. He said he plans to file a similar complaint today with the state Division of Elections in Tallahassee.

City Clerk Carrie Ward has been out of the office all week and could not be reached for comment.

Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson said his staff researched the matter and concluded that it would take a court order from a circuit judge to postpone the runoff. Ward lacks the authority to do so, he said.

Brown, also an attorney, said he did not know whether Ward could postpone the runoff. But he believed it was necessary to file a formal protest before Tuesday. Ward is in charge of the municipal election, although the supervisor of elections office actually tabulates the ballots.

"I want the appropriate authorities to investigate and make a determination on whether absentee ballot fraud occurred," Brown said.

Masters, pastor of New Macedonia Baptist Church, and his campaign consultant Richard Giorgio of Patriot Games have denied Brown's allegations. Giorgio said Brown's accusations have been the same since the day after the election.

"There is no legal basis for his allegations," Giorgio said.

Anderson said he has not found any wrongdoing by Masters and his campaign.

"The mayor is totally within his rights and privileges to file such a claim," Anderson said. "At this point, I don't have any evidence that there was anything wrong with Bishop Masters' actions."

Brown questioned Anderson's interpretation of the law and the events of March 13.

"I have credible evidence of absentee voter ballot fraud," Brown said.

Masters still would beat Brown, even if all 602 absentee ballots were tossed out.

However, Masters' margin of victory would fall below the 50 percent needed for an outright win, which would force a runoff with Brown.

Tuesday's runoff will decide who gets elected to three city council seats. The candidates are split between a slate supported by Singer Island residents and another backed by Brown.

As part of his complaint, Brown provided notarized affidavits from about a dozen residents who claim they were approached by Masters or someone representing his campaign to vote with illegally obtained absentee ballots. Others charge that they were approached on election day and told that they did not need to vote at the polls and could vote absentee.

An affidavit from one woman said two women came to her house with blank absentee ballots and left one with her. She used the absentee ballot to vote and sent it to the supervisor of elections office.

Under Florida law, voters must request absentee ballots from the office, which mails them directly to voters.

A day after the election, Brown aired similar charges during a news conference. He said he had notified Ward before the election regarding complaints about Masters and his campaign's distributing absentee ballots.

Ward said she called Masters into her office and presented him with the allegations. He denied them.

An analysis of the election results shows the absentee ballots worked in Masters' favor. He won the city's largest precincts once the ballots were added to vote totals.

Masters also dominated Brown on Singer Island, where he defeated the incumbent by a 4-to-1 margin.