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Pollingergate: In Motor Voter Registrations, An Applicant’s Former State Is Barely Relevant

| June 7, 2012

John Pollinger, during his 12-minutes of testimony in Flagler County Circuit Court Monday. (© FlaglerLive)

The case against John Pollinger’s candidacy for Flagler County Sheriff as a Republican centers on three questions: when did he legitimately become a Republican, after being a registered Democrat for most of his life when he lived in New Jersey? Whose responsibility was it to annul his Democratic registration in New Jersey? And to what extent is that previous registration relevant, once he had registered in Florida, as he did in August 2008?

Flagler County Circuit Judge Dennis Craig may render a decision today or tomorrow on Pollinger’s eligibility to be on the Aug. 14 primary ballot as a Republican. The case against Pollinger’s eligibility as a Republican was brought by Anne-Marie Shaffer, an ally of Ray Stevens, another Republican candidate for sheriff. Shaffer claims that it wasn’t until January that Pollinger repudiated his Democratic registration—as Pollinger, in fact, did, by phone call and faxed letter to New Jersey authorities. By law, a candidate for Florida office running under one party’s banner must swear that he hasn’t been a member of another party for at least 365 days.

In some ways, and incredibly, Pollinger claims he’s never been a Democrat.

“Mr. Pollinger, have you ever been a registered member of the Democratic Party?” Pollinger’s attorney, Ron Hertel, asked him under oath in a hearing before Craig Monday.

“No,” Pollinger replied categorically. That was the only question Hertel had for Pollinger at the end of Pollinger’s 12 minutes on the stand. The rest of the time, Pollinger was questioned by Jake Kaney III, Shaffer’s attorney, opening with a similar question and a similarly startling answer:

“Isn’t it true you have previously been registered as a Democrat in the state of New Jersey?”

“No,” Pollinger says.

“It is not true, Mr. Pollinger, that on Aug. 20, 1970, you registered at Monmouth County, New Jersey, as a Democrat?”

Pollinger’s attorneys objected to the question, calling it leading. The judge overruled.

“At the age of 20 yes,” Pollinger said, “I registered as a voter in the state of New Jersey, the county of Monmouth, and indicated a Democrat, that’s correct.”

Pollinger and his attorneys are making a cheeky distinction that while he was registered to vote as a Democrat—something he did, he has said repeatedly in other settings, to support friends who were Democrats—he was never an active member of the party, as he has been with Republican party politics in Flagler County. Nevertheless, his New Jersey voter profile, provided him in court, shows him as a Democrat until January 2012.

For all the hair-splitting over Pollinger’s party allegiances, that may not be the relevant legal issue as far as Florida law and Craig’s ruling are concerned, because what elections officials do with their records in other states is not Florida’s concern; what Florida records reflect about Florida voters, and how those records came to be, is. So the more pertinent legal issue in so far as Florida law is concerned is when Pollinger registered in Florida and how. That matter was touched on only barely in court Monday, but it revealed that neither side’s attorneys appeared too familiar with the process through which Pollinger originally registered: what’s know as Motor Voter registration.

But that part of the registration process may be the key to Pollinger’s responsibility—and Florida’s—in establishing his Florida registration.

“When did you first register to vote in the state of Florida?” Kaney asked Pollinger.

Pollinger: “August of 2008.”

Kaney: “Did you list a party affiliation?”

Pollinger: “No. There was no way to list anything. I was asked a series of questions and I answered them at the time.”

Kaney: “There was a written application you had to fill out, right?”

Pollinger: “No.”

Kaney: “When did you register—or, list yourself as a Republican in Florida?”

Pollinger: “In August of 2009.”

Kaney: “Was there a written application involved in that, or a written form you filled out?”

Pollinger: “That is correct.”

Kaney: “Did you provide your most recent, last address on that form?”

Pollinger: “I was just changing parties as I recall at the time, I was instructed that I just needed to change and indicate my party affiliation, which I did.” Pollinger then clarified that he did list his current address at the time of the change of affiliation. That was all the questions Kaney had for Pollinger.

Anne-Marie Shaffer, who brought the action against Pollinger, and her attorney, Jake Kaney III. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

But at no point did Kaney—or Pollinger’s attorney—ask him, when he was originally asked if he wanted to register as a voter in Florida when he was getting his driver’s license, if he was ever asked whether he was registered in another state.

He never was, because the motor voter clerks who ask the questions during the process never do. The clerks also may (but are not required to) show the applicant a list of available parties to choose from. In Pollinger’s case, he declined to choose a party affiliation at that point, agreeing only to be registered in Florida, which in his mind, he says, automatically nullified his previous registration in New Jersey. That is generally what voters who move also believe: rare is the voter who registers in a new state and actively contacts the previous state to nullify a registration. State authorities usually do that mutually, and in fact Florida and New Jersey law include provisions placing the responsibility of nullifying previous registrations on state authorities, not on the individual voter.

A visit to Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston office in Bunnell illustrates that process.

“We do not actually register anyone to vote,” says Dave Herne, the driver’s license specialist at the tax collector’s office since 2005. Before that, Herne was a driver’s license manager at the state office in Tallahassee. “We just fill out applications based on the responses given by the individuals who are applying.”

Those responses are prompted verbally by a specific set of questions the specialist asks, from a written script that lays out precisely the sequence and the words that must be used.


The first question in the motor voter process is this: “Are you currently registered to vote in Florida?” If the customer says yes, the next question is: “Would you like to update your voter registration record?” If the answer is no, the question is: “Would you like to apply to register to vote at this time?” At that point, an application screen appears that looks similar to a registration form, which does include a line for a previous address where the applicant was last registered to vote—but that line is not required to be filled out. Nor, for that matter, is the party-affiliation line.

Pertinently to the Pollinger case, the driver’s license specialist never asks if the registrant wants to cancel a registration elsewhere, or gives him the option to: that’s not relevant to the Florida registration process. The closest the driver’s license specialist gets to knowing whether the applicant may be from out of state is when the specialist decides which screen to use: if it’s a registration update, it’s one screen. If it’s a new registration, whether from in-state or out-of-state, it’s another (the “new application” screen).

The three-page  motor voter manual specifies that the specialist is not actually registering the applicant to vote, but merely taking the information. “We then transmit the information electronically within 24 hours to the Florida Department of State’s statewide registration system,” the manual reads. The record is not kept at the tax collector’s office, though a receipt is handed to the applicant reflecting the information provided verbally. Pollinger was at Johnston’s office two weeks ago, trying to get a copy of that receipt. But those records are not kept by the tax collector, either. They’re transmitted to the state.

In essence, as far as Florida was concerned, Pollinger was registered—and registered with no party—from the time the state elections office received and certified the information. From that point on, Pollinger was a Florida voter who could then change his registration accordingly—as he did a year later, in 2009, when he registered as a Republican. By then (and by his own accounts), he had even less reason to think that he had to contact New Jersey authorities. He had also, by then, voted—in Florida—in the 2008 presidential election, for John McCain, to whose campaign he’d also contributed.

Pollinger’s contribution record that year tells a story of its own: He contributed $200 to McCain’s campaign in January 2008, another $200 in February and $200 in April, and another $400 in June 2008, all three times listing his Atlantic Highlands address. He contributed one last time on Aug. 8, 2008, a $200 check. That time, his address was listed as Palm Coast.

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20 Responses for “Pollingergate: In Motor Voter Registrations, An Applicant’s Former State Is Barely Relevant”

  1. Peggy Ellis says:

    Good commonsense explanation. I am not a Flagler County resident, but it seems to me that he is eligible to run as a Republican here.

    • Linda H. says:

      A man gets arrested and booked into the county jail (then released on bond) for vandalizing a campaign sign and no one cries foul.

      A candidate for sheriff fails to be in compliance with State election law, belligerently defies Florida law, demands to be on the ballot unless he is challenged…and he’s championed in his arrogant defiance of the law.

  2. Think first, act second says:

    In this article Flagler Live states that Mr. Pollinger contributed to John McCain’s campaign in 2008 on 4 different occasions before voting for him. You also quote his statement that he registered in Florida in August 2008.
    Where did he vote in 2008? According to the Flagler SOE registered voters he DID NOT vote in 2008’s General election. Did he vote in NJ after registering in FL? It seems there are a couple of unanswered questions about statement he made that do not have an ambiguity.

  3. Profiler says:

    When you get your Florida drivers license or vehicle registration, people don’t call the last state to cancel theirs. It’s Florida’s responsibility. For instance, if someone runs a driver license check on someone it will pop up on the screen as example: New York license canceled, issued by another state. So what’s the problem with Mr. Pollinger? Theirs not one.
    I suggest this woman get a REAL life.
    I wasn’t sure who I would vote for, but for all they’ve put this man through….I’m voting for him, as I’m sure others will to. What a waste of taxpayers money to pursue this.
    As usual, no one around here focuses on the important issues…like all the homeless children in this county. It just makes me sad.

    • Linda H. says:

      This isn’t a driver’s license we are referring to. This is a voter registration and Florida state law designed to prohibit candidates running under a party affiliation just because they think they have a better chance of winning.

  4. Common Sense says:

    What a waste of our court system and tax payers’ money to have a judge rule on this common sense issue. I was undecided as to whom to vote for in the republican primary but based on this plaintiffs’ relationship to the Stevens candidate I can assure you that I will not be voting for him.

  5. Biker says:

    Lets not forget at the polls which candidates camp was responsible for this debacle. What a terrible waste of taxpayor money.

    • Bill says:

      Yes indeed Biker. John Pollinger has had to deal with this baloney too long and the tax payers are once again asked to pay for useless and court clogging frivolous law suits. I know John Pollinger is a most honest man. I believe this to be true that he asked for a meeting with the incumbent Sheriff, Don Fleming. They had that meeting and it ended with both men respecting each others values. John Pollinger said, promised, he would tell us what he stood for and let the voters decide. Mr. Pollinger, you have my vote sir.

  6. K says:

    I would expect nothing less of a Stevens supporter. The guy is eligible to run.

    Between this and “write in candidate”- gate I do believe we are in the most corrupt county in Florida.

  7. Will says:

    In looking at comments above it would seem that the legal action against Mr. Pollinger might be coming back to bite Mr. Stevens and supporters among Ronald Reagan Assembly people. Probably not their “Plan A”.

    Oops….

    It will be interesting either way to see how Judge Craig rules.

  8. I do believe says:

    I bet if Hammond was still in office this would have already been decided. I appreciate Judge Craig taking the time to do his homework, and look at everything before rushing to make a judgment call.

    Did Pollinger lie under oath?

    Integrity….is what we need in a Sheriff!

    • Ray Thorne says:

      There is a difference between being registered to vote a certain way and being an active member of its Party. I wonder why Jim Manfre was present at the hearing? Could it be that Manfre and Stevens have teamed up in this attempt to knock Pollinger out of the race? I believe so. Manfre feels Fleming is “weakened” and probably feels that if it were he and Stevens in the general election that he’d be shoo-in. Stevens probably isn’t wise enough to see past his own underhandedness to know that he is being underhanded as well. It’s really something to sit back and watch. They underestimate Fleming and try to knock out Pollinger. I guess this is what people resort to when they know they can’t win by any other means.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      A lie is a statement someone makes, that they know to be untrue at the time. If Pollinger believes that registering to vote in NJ 30 years ago as a democrat affiliated voter, does not make him a member of the democrat party, then he’s not lying!

      I happen to agree with him. Registering to vote in a closed primary state like New Jersey or Florida as Republican or Democrat, does not automatically make you a member of that party in my mind. And this is where Steven’s campaign manager is trying to have it both ways… how you can claim on the one hand registering to vote as a democrat makes you a member of the democrat party, but then moving and changing your voter registration to republican in your new home state, doesn’t nullify that previous membership? Essentially that would have us believe that Pollinger, up until January of this year was a member of both parties, even though they’ve conceded that by law he couldn’t have voted in NJ after his registration in Florida…

      It’s a joke, they should focused on promoting their candidate and explain to voters why Steven’s was the best guy for the job, instead of making this huge mistake of trying to get their opponents excluded, which will now most likely, simply ensure Fleming wins the primary, and most likely reelection.

      Also ironic is the fact that Stevens’ is making the claim that Pollinger isn’t “republican enough” to be on the republican ballot, yet Stevens is the one who’s previously run for the office as an independent.

  9. Geezer says:

    “I think of Tweeter and the Monkeyman” by the Traveling Wilburys, when I think of this
    embattled New Jersey native, sheriff wannabe, Mr Pollinger.

    “Now the town of jersey city is quieting down again
    Im sitting in a gambling club called the lions den
    The tv set been blown up, every bit of it is gone
    Ever since the nightly news show that the monkey man was on

    I guess I’ll to to florida and get myself some sun
    There aint no more opportunity here, everythings been done
    Sometime I think of tweeter, sometime I think of jan
    Sometime I don’t think about nothing but the monkey man”

  10. elaygee says:

    Republicans are against government waste unless its them wasting the money

  11. tulip says:

    I thought the judge was going to give a decision today, or Have I missed it somewhere?

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Some northeaster newcomers think we are all dumb here…just tell them anything …even if under oath! One more of those in the list again.Lets see which party has more registered voters and we just join that one. They know they are moving to a red state.
    Whatever to grab a local elected position with a fat paycheck and lots of power, simply because us local voters, do not even bother to thoroughly check their real credentials, real background and real family values. Then we have to endure what we voted, lacking the service they swore to provides us and generating skyrocketing budgets in our pockets. Where is our bicycle patrol, where is sheriff boat patrolling our water ways where is our (mounted) horse riding lady deputy…maybe at formers Ginn, Hammock Beach Resort..?

    • dontbesoparanoid says:

      You can ask the county where they are as with a $4million shortfall, another million dollars has been cut from your Sheriff’s Office’s budget.

      And even so, you are not “lacking the services they swore to provide”. Infact, just the opposite.

      [Once again dontbesoparanoid, it appears you have a hard time making your points without insulting commenters. You reflect quite poorly on the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, from whose offices and on whose behalf all your comments are written. Your bullying attitude is tiresome to edit, and we don't have time for it. If you're unable to control yourself, your comments will no longer be cleaned up. They simply won't go live.--FL]

  13. Think first, act second says:

    I have been bothered by the issue that Mr. Pollinger and his attorney Mr. Chiumento stated at the hearing, which I did attend and heard them each specifically state their positions. First Pollinger said he had registered as a Democrat when he was 20 in NJ. Chiumento went on to say during his rebuttal to the plantiff’s accusations that he was registered as a Republican but was not a member of the Republican Party. Now comes the part that bothers me. Pollinger said he filled out a written application later after giving his verbal statements to the Motor Vehicle Dept. I have to assume Mr. Chiumento had to fill out an application also, but just my assumption but since he is a native of this area and graduated from FPC it seems he would have applied here.
    Here is the wording form the voter application:
    Party Affiliation
    (Check only one. If left blank, you will be registered without party affiliation)
     Florida Democratic Party
     Republican Party of Florida
     No party affiliation
     Minor political party (print name):
    Now the verbage is specific, Florida Democratic “PARTY” or Republican “PARTY” of Florida. How then if either filled out this document, signed it under Oath that whether they wish to admit it or not they have signed an oath that they are members of one of these two parties. In their case the Republican Party, but it would be applicable otherwise. You can try to play the shell game of hiding under verbage but you have to do it before you sign oaths.
    I cannot see how the judge can rule that he is a member of the Republican Party.
    Here is another part of the application that I understand he did not fill out, but that is just hearsay:
    Address Where You Were Last Registered to Vote, Apt/Lot/Unit, City State Zip Code.
    Gotta love google.

    • Think first, act second says:

      The judge has decided and I accept his decision. I still find problems with it, but the judge is the judge and his ruling is the law. Good luck to Mr. Pollinger in the upcoming race.

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