Trey Corbett, Running for Flagler Supervisor Of Elections, Trips Over Several Election Rules
FlaglerLive | September 14, 2012
Last month Trey Corbett emerged the Republican winner in a four-way race for Flagler County Supervisor of Elections, beating Pam Richardson by 80 votes, out of 9,284 votes cast. He is facing incumbent Kimberle Weeks in the Nov. 6 election.
Several issues emerged regarding Corbett’s campaign during the primary and after the election. With one exception, none of the issues, in and of themselves, amount to more than minor errors or misjudgments first-time candidates for office commit from time to time.
Taken together, the issues point to a pattern of rule-breaking or poor judgment that stand out more because of the office Corbett is seeking: they are the sort of issues and errors he would be responsible for monitoring and controlling as supervisor of elections—and the sort of issues a candidate for the office would presumably have known to avoid by understanding the basics of the office he was seeking.
The most serious issue was conveyed to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for review: the matter of Corbett’s primary address, and the address that he cites on his voter registration—which he changed only on Monday, although he moved out of his previous address at least 15 months ago, when his divorce was finalized. He has voted four times since at his old precinct—Precinct 21, at Belle Terre Elementary—even though, since his divorce, he says he’s been renting apartments in Precinct 27 (the Palm Coast Community Center). The address he wrote on his registration card on Monday is for an apartment at European Village.
Corbett also advertised his campaign improperly when he neglected to include the word “for” (as in, “candidate for supervisor of elections,” as opposed to placing his name above the office title.) Several candidates commit the mistake. Corbett was fined $100.
But Corbett paid it out of his campaign fund—another violation, which he had to correct.
Shortly after the primary, County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, who is serving on the canvassing board, relayed a report he’d heard about Corbett to Weeks, who was also on the canvassing board through the primary. (She won’t be on the board for the general election, since she is involved in the race against Corbett.) “I had a couple of reports come to me,” McLaughlin said of the matter, which involved Corbett, during early voting at the library location, offering to wash voters’ cars.
A Report to the Canvassing Board
McLaughlin said he was merely conveying the issue to the supervisor out of responsibility as a canvassing board member—not as a witness or as a judge of what he’d heard. He cited three names he’d heard the reports from: Herb Whitaker, a candidate for county commission, Charlie Ericksen, a candidate who has since won a seat to the county commission, and John Pollinger, a candidate who lost a bid for sheriff. All three candidates were often at the library location with Corbett. All three, like Corbett, are Republicans, removing the matter of partisanship (Weeks is a Democrat). All three were contacted regarding the matter. Pollinger said he was no longer involved in political issues and would not discuss it. Whitacker at first had trouble e remembering what the issue was, but then remembered hearing about the issue, not witnessing it.
Ericksen said he saw and heard Corbett make joking offers to potential voters a few times. “I saw him joking with people,” Ericksen said. “He offered to wash a woman’s car, but I was standing next to him, he made the comment in jest, nothing more than that. We were standing up at the library.” Ericksen added: “He would normally say, ‘Are you here to vote?,’ etc. If he didn’t get a response or something he’d say jokingly, ‘Can I wash your car?’ I didn’t hear him say that on a regular basis, either, it was one or two times maybe. In most cases the person just smiled and laughed. I never saw anybody visibly offended by him.”
Corbett has an effusive personality, and the 10-day early voting period was tedious, especially for candidates, who endured heat, boredom, and a dearth of voters that made humor and the occasional obnoxious act part of the routine, some candidates acknowledged.
Corbett himself would not address the matter in an interview. “That’s nonsense and it sounds kind of ridiculous,” he said this week.
Weeks said she’d relayed the matter to the state Division of Elections, as she did the matter of Corbett’s residency, after herself pulling Corbett’s divorce file to, she said, verify what she had been told before conveying the matter to the state.
Kimberle Weeks’s Dog in the Fight
It’s no secret that Weeks is an assiduous and able digger into public records, and a combatant on her behalf in her own right: the main criticism leveled at her over the past four years, by county commissioners, by candidates for the office or by way of press reports, has been over her public demeanor with the county commission. Particularly in 2010 and early 2011, her demeanor was abrasive and confrontational. Commissioners questioned her about budget items, bonuses paid, and supplemental budget requests, provoking at times heated exchanges between the supervisor and the commission, and flurries of emails between her office and the county administration’s rich in claims and counterclaims. For a June 2010 workshop, she prepared a one-and-a-half-inch-thick briefing book, double-sided, with a CD of all the documents, a huge portion of the emails, that amounted to an encyclopedic counterattack designed to defend her budget, her interpretation of law, and some singled-out criticism of county officials, including a special chapter devoted to County Attorney Al Hadeed, a recurring Weeks bête noire.
But there have been no notable complaints about the actual running of the office in its most essential regard: elections were run efficiently, and the state rated the office among the best performing. Even issues with the commission have dissipated in the past year.
And Weeks maintains a loyal corps of supporters, among them Joan Affatato—an occasional presence at county commission meetings—who do the heavy lifting of her campaign by filing elections complaints against her opponents (Corbett included) and rummaging through their records. FlaglerLive conducted its own independent investigation of the matter, but received a number of anonymous emails on the issue as well.
When reached by phone on Wednesday to talk about the various issues, Corbett was immediately defensive. He had not yet heard a reporter’s specific questions about the matters—he’d merely been asked where he’d lived after his divorce in 2011—before he said: “I’ve done nothing wrong here. Everything is a matter of public record, and I have also sought and been speaking with an attorney.” He spoke to an attorney, he said, “to make sure there’s no wrongdoing. There’s been no allegations made. What’s going on is baseless. It’s an election year, and these are tactics to discredit me.”
But beyond the politics, the matter of his primary residence, and what he’s reported on his financial disclosure form, contradict the court’s orders in his divorce, as does a finding by a state division of elections lawyer concerning Corbett’s residency status.
Corbett’s Primary Residence
Florida law explicitly requires a voter to notify the supervisor of elections when he or she changes address “as soon as practical.” It just as explicitly lays out where a voter may and may not vote: “A person is not permitted to vote in any election precinct or district other than the one in which the person has his or her legal residence and in which the person is registered.”
Corbett explained: “The way that the statute reads is, when you’re asked where you live, they’re asking you where it is that you’re going to make your permanent residency. I haven’t decided that. It’s going to be in Flagler County, and I do live and work in Flagler County.”
The law also provides for voters who are temporarily residing outside the county, but don’t have a permanent residence in the county. But those voters must be registered in the precinct in which the supervisor’s office is located. Corbett wasn’t. Nor, however, had he left the county. But he had moved.
The Court File
Corbett and his ex-wife divorced in 2011. The order was finalized on June 8 that year, before Circuit Judge Dennis Craig. It left no doubt about whose house it was: “Wife is awarded sole and exclusive ownership, use and possession of the Palm Coast home,” the order stated, referring to the couple’s home at 71 Lynbrook Drive. The couple bought the house in 2007 for $323,750. “Within thirty (30) days of this judgment, Husband shall quit claim any and all of his interest in the Palm Coast home to wife.”
The settlement awarded Corbett a 2008 Toyota Avalon and about one-sixth that year’s tax refund from the IRS. The settlement awarded his wife a car, a motorcycle and a property in St. Augustine, and five-sixth of the IRS refund. The order also specified that there would be “no oral agreements” between Corbett and his ex-wide, “other than those expressly set forth herein.”
There is no mention of Corbett remaining in the house, nor a stated agreement to that effect. Rather, Corbett listed a $550-a-month rent payment he was making at the time for an apartment, which he said in the interview Wednesday was in the area of Palm Harbor Parkway.
In his financial disclosure form filed as a candidate this year, which accounts for the candidate’s financial condition as of Dec. 31, 2011, he listed the $320,000 owed for the mortgage on the Lynbrook home, and listed that home as an asset of his own.
Corbett said all his statements and papers were in order. “I am on the deed, I am on the mortgage, and I am on the note,” he said of the Lynbrook home. “I have keys to the house, I have a garage door opener to the house, my mother lives in the house, I have clothes in the house, I’m at that house regularly. It’s a dual residence. Listen, it’s a dual residence, I get along famously with my ex-wife. We had issues, obviously, and we are no longer married.” He said the mortgage company would not allow him to come off the mortgage because it’s upside down—that is, as with many homes bought during Florida’s housing bubble (and the Corbetts bought theirs at the height of the bubble), more is owed on the house than it’s worth.
“He Does Not Live There”
But Corbett does not live at the address, according to Gary Holland, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of State, which oversees election rules in Florida.
Holland investigated the matter at Weeks’s request. “I spoke to his ex-wife who resides in the former marital home,” Holland wrote Weeks on Aug. 28, referring to Corbett, “and she confirmed that he does not live there, but he receives mail there and comes by to pick it up. His mother still lives in the home. The ex-wife does not know his exact address, but he lives in or near a complex called European Village.”
Weeks had asked Holland whether she should verify Corbett’s address. “Since he is a candidate, and running for the same office that I am running for,” Weeks wrote, “I want to be sure that it is clear that I am simply trying to do my job, and not allowing illegal voting to take place by allowing him to vote in a precinct in which is does not live, if in fact he does not live at the address reflected on his voter registration application, nor am I taking action against him because we are running for the same office.”
Holland’s advice: “Because you are within 90 days of a federal election, you may not send any address confirmation notices; however, any voter or poll watcher could challenge his right to vote in the precinct at any time within 30 days before Election Day. He then can vote a provisional ballot and will have until 5pm on second day after the election to provide evidence to support his eligibility to vote. In any event, you should ensure the matter is cleared up after the election.”
Corbett has made battling illegal voting part of his platform, as has every candidate for that office.
Asked why he had finally changed his registration address on Monday, Corbett said: “I changed the address because I talked to the state and asked them, you know, what—I spoke to an attorney at the state, and he advised me, you know, I explained the situation to him, he said that’s fine, go ahead and file a change of address so that you opponent doesn’t have any ammunition to fire at you. He said as far as it looks to us, there’s nothing wrong here, and of course I’ve spoken to an attorney and the attorney said I have nothing to worry about.”
Holland, referring to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, also said he was “in the process of referring the complaint to FDLE for investigation.”
A Few Relevant Laws:
101.045 Electors must be registered in precinct; provisions for change of residence or name.—
(1) A person is not permitted to vote in any election precinct or district other than the one in which the person has his or her legal residence and in which the person is registered. However, a person temporarily residing outside the county shall be registered in the precinct in which the main office of the supervisor, as designated by the supervisor, is located when the person has no permanent address in the county and it is the person’s intention to remain a resident of Florida and of the county in which he or she is registered to vote. Such persons who are registered in the precinct in which the main office of the supervisor, as designated by the supervisor, is located and who are residing outside the county with no permanent address in the county shall not be registered electors of a municipality and therefore shall not be permitted to vote in any municipal election.
VoterUnder penalties for false swearing, I, (Name of voter) , swear (or affirm) that the former address of my legal residence was (Address of legal residence) in the municipality of , in County, Florida, and I was registered to vote in the precinct of County, Florida; that I have not voted in the precinct of my former registration in this election; that I now reside at (Address of legal residence) in the Municipality of , in County, Florida, and am therefore eligible to vote in the precinct of County, Florida; and I further swear (or affirm) that I am otherwise legally registered and entitled to vote.
(Signature of voter whose address of legal residence has changed)
VoterUnder penalties for false swearing, I, (New name of voter) , swear (or affirm) that my name has been changed because of marriage or other legal process. My former name and address of legal residence appear on the registration records of precinct as follows:
My present name and address of legal residence are as follows:
and I further swear (or affirm) that I am otherwise legally registered and entitled to vote.
(Signature of voter whose name has changed)