Sen. Travis Hutson, who represents all of Flagler County, is concerned that internecine brawling among Flagler Republicans is hurting the party’s ticket and may intimidate voters away from voting lines, where he’s had reports of aggressive and inappropriate interference from campaign volunteers and others telling voters who to vote for, especially in Palm Coast’s mayoral race.
Hutson contacted Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart and the Republican Executive Committee’s Dave Sullivan, who is also a county commissioner, urging them to intervene to compel Republican candidates to dial down aggressive tactics that could be intimidating voters away from polls. The tactics haven’t been the result of overly aggressive Trump volunteers and supporters, as has been the case in many parts of the country, but of candidates or their volunteers for the Palm Coast City Council, and specifically in the mayoral race.
“It’s our volunteers and our candidates, it’s our REC men and our REC women, there’s a lot of fighting going on and it needs to stop,” Hutson said. “There’s a lot of candidates being super aggressive and there are ballots being handed out that have people being circled and crossed off.” Huston–who’s in a reelection race of his own–said no such infighting takes place among Republicans in St. Johns or Volusia counties. He wants Flagler Republicans focused on the Trump vote and is concerned that down-ballot infighting could weaken support for the top of the ticket if voters are turned off.
The conflict reflects a deep split within Flagler County Republicans, some aligned with incumbent Mayor Milissa Holland, some with challenger Alan Lowe. Both are Republicans in a supposedly non-partisan race that has turned into the single-most partisan race in Flagler aside from the top of the ticket.
Hutson was sent a slate card showing the Republican candidates running for Palm Coast City Council and mayor (among them Lowe, Danko, Victor Barbosa and Nick Klufas), but with Holland’s face crossed off. Both he and Lenhart have heard claims that individuals posing as poll workers have approached voters and told them that their vote wouldn’t count if they voted for Holland because she’d be going to jail–itself a false hood echoing, in Hutson’s words, “signs that are out there that may be slanderous that accuse candidates of certain things that are blatantly not true.”
Whether people posing as poll workers have in fact approached voters or not to tell them how to vote, Lenhart took the possibility seriously enough to produce signs posted at the Flagler County Public Library, one of the three early voting sites, informing voters that no one associated with her office will tell them how to vote.
“He called me yesterday morning and wanted to know the rules concerning election workers advising voters and helping them choose a candidate on the ballot,” Lenhart said of Hutson. “We discussed that, I agreed to create a sign for the library, because of course our workers are not there to do that.”
At times voters seek help from poll workers for no other reason than because they’re not sure how to vote, particularly on amendments. But Lenhart said voters are responsible to make their own choices. That in turns makes voters vulnerable to being influenced by candidates and their volunteers, who fill campaign tents on the approach of voting sites and whose tactics can lack subtlety. Some were filling out sample ballots produced by the supervisor’s office, making it seem as if the supervisor’s office was making the recommendations. That’s not acceptable, Lenhart said: the parties should rely on their own slate cards. She addressed the parties to that effect as well.
“The last thing I want is for people not showing up to our polls to vote for our president,” Hutson said, especially in a county with a significant Republican majority among registered Republicans. “I’m hoping our leaders within our organization can, if the volunteers aren’t listening, get them out.” If volunteers are in voters’ faces, “you’re doing more harm to the president than you’re doing good.” He added: “The only sign that matter si Donald Trump.”
Sullivan doesn’t buy it. “That’s BS. That’s BS,” he said of the fear that voters would turn away. “I guarantee you in Flagler County you could probably find two people who are Republicans who’ll say I’m not going to vote for Trump because of the way the mayor’s race is going. That’s not going to happen. Give me a break.”
Sullivan attributes the local tensions to the fact that two Republicans have ended up in the runoff for Mayor, creating natural competition. “There are strong feelings, it’s very unfortunate, very unfortunate when we end up with two Republicans running for the same office,” he aid. But he’s not seeing issues beyond the normal voting-time tensions. “I’ve had no proof of that. We have poll watchers, and then we have volunteers. There are very few REC members who are out there doing what Travis is implying.” Sullivan himself endorsed Lowe. He said the REC itself has not endorsed, but REC members who have endorsed Holland are out at the library, too, like former Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth.
The race for Palm Coast mayor between the two Republicans has been ugly for a while, with the Lowe campaign baselessly calling Holland corrupt and jail-worthy and the Holland campaign more recently launching an ad blitz implying, beyond a racially-tinged ad it quickly pulled, that Lowe was a criminal. A political action committee backing Holland, called Friends of Palm Coast, recently sent a text to some voters saying “Candidate Alan Lowe denounces USA, aligns with terrorist group. Didn’t vote for Trump.” The text included a link to a video ad tying Lowe to terrorism and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
None of it is true. Holland is not under criminal investigation from any local or state agency, as Lowe has said in a radio commercial of his own. The claim that the FBI is investigating her is sheer speculation, made more so by the fact that she’s never been contacted by the federal agency. Lowe is not a criminal. What charges he’s faced in the past, for theft or an injunction in a domestic matter in Volusia, were dropped. And while Lowe abjured his citizenship in the early 1990s and called himself a “sovereign citizen,” making himself part of a movement that was (and remains) unquestionably tied to domestic terrorism, including the Oklahoma City bombing, Lowe himself has never been tied to violent acts.
Holland said today she has “no idea who sent that. That has no affiliation with my campaign whatsoever.” Holland said she’s received emails about Lowe’s “sovereign citizen” past, as documented in the Flagler County court record. “I have never once responded to this person nor have I used any of the information and documents they have provided,” she said today. ” My campaign has run one contrast piece, that is all. I adjusted the commercial immediately following our conversation and it has been running without it yet it’s still referred to as racist by him and his supporters.” (The reference to “our conversation” was to her interview with FlaglerLive the day the site broke the story on her television commercial.)
Lowe did not return a call before this article initially published. Danko, who is campaigning alongside Lowe, said he hadn’t heard of the concerns Hutson raised. “The poll workers inside the polls have to be credentialed,” he said. Outside, “They can be anybody, anybody can approach voters as long as you’re outside the 150 mark.” As for intimidation of any sort, “I haven’t seen any of that. There’s plenty of people here advocating for different candidates.” He cited various names. “I’m sure there’s people out here doing stuff like that, but you get all kinds of people showing up out here and telling people all kinds of things. We get people coming out here telling people Alan is a Democrat.”
Holland produced a picture posted by Ed Danko on social media showing a pair of feet from calves down, standing on a Milissa Holland for Mayor sign, under Danko’s Facebook name and the hashtag #WalkAwayFromHolland, But compared to a lot of imagery and allegations flaming the campaign, that one was relatively tame. She rejected the claim today that she’d run a negative campaign. “My social media and digital campaign is based on my accomplishments and endorsements and is very positive,” she said in a text. “Yet I am slammed with continual baseless accusations and have my photo on his van displayed at early voting saying I am going to jail, which he repeats over and over. I have not run a negative campaign but that is all he, Danko and McDonald have done. It’s been slanderous unbelievably cruel.”