Contrary to fears or assumptions that this would be an unsettled or violent election season, it’s proceeding quietly and with poise in Flagler but for a few notable exceptions: The 53,000 Flagler County voters who have cast ballots in record pre-Election Day numbers have done so patiently and civilly, at times standing in long lines for up to an hour or more on their feet, in the heat and, especially at the Palm Coast Community Center, without shade.
But if voters have been model citizens so far, and they have, a very small handful of candidates or party operatives, particularly in the Republican Party, have been a little less so: their actions have required the interventions of poll deputies, of Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart and of sheriff’s deputies.
No incident has risen to the level of so much as a misdemeanor. No one has been arrested. There’s been no physical altercations. But there’s been a few threats, a few insults, the crossing of 150-foot no-solicitation zones, some yelling between campaign tents, and intense internal flare-ups between different factions of Republicans, whose party controls most elected seats in the county.
“Overall they’re getting along fine, and everybody is really behaving, they’re cohabitating in a very tight space together,” Lenhart said at the beginning of the week with characteristic cheer. Her focus was on the ongoing surge in voting. But the incidents at voting sites have distracted her on occasion, whether it’s the Republican tents’ misuse of sample ballots to sway voters or overly aggressive soliciting, yelling across tents or doing anything that could be interpreted as intimidation.
“I talked to both tents, the Republican and Democratic tents are right next to each other there,” Lenhart said of the set-up at the Government Services Building, where her office and one of the three early voting locations is located. Lines can stretch within close proximity of those tents, and candidates or their volunteers have at times been unruly. “Voters are watching, and I don’t know if that’s the kind of behavior they want to have representing their political organization. It doesn’t look right.”
The internal acrimony within Republican circles led Sen. Travis Hutson, also a Republican, to intervene this week as he called Lenhart and Dave Sullivan, a member of the Republican Executive Committee board and a county commissioner, after he got reports of unseemly or slanderous behavior within Republican ranks, namely in the Milissa Holland-Alan Lowe race for mayor and other races for the Palm Coast City Council, which, along with the Trump reelection movement, have been ground zero of this election cycle’s tawdriest behavior. (See “GOP Infighting and Ugly Turns in Palm Coast Mayoral Race Draw Sen. Hutson’s and Supervisor’s Interventions.”)
In a related sideshow illustrating the rifts, the local REC issued a statement Monday attacking a political action committee that calls itself Trump Team 2020 and that supports Holland. “Over the past few weeks, mailers, social media post, text messages, phone calls and televised commercials have been used to mislead Flagler County voters. Trump Team 2020 PC is not affiliated with the Flagler County Republican Committee, the Republican Party of Florida, the Donald J. Trump for President campaign, or Trump Victory,” Jearlyn Dennie, who chairs the local REC, said in the statement. She called the PAC a an “illicit source” and a “dishonest organization has been shamefully deceiving Flagler County voters into believing President Trump is supporting one candidate over another in the Palm Coast mayoral or city council races.”
Today Annie Marie Delgado, who heads Trump Team 2020, issued a statement of her own, accusing Dennie of issuing a “false and defamatory statement” against an organization that’s “registered thousands and thousands of Republicans with the mission of reelecting President Donald J. Trump.” Delgado said her organization at no time portrayed itself the way Dennie described it, and that the PAC was never “denounced” by Trump’s campaign. “I find it ironic and hypocritical that the Flagler County Republican Party chair would violate the GOP charter/bylaws by working against a Republican then falsely accuse our organization of actions we have taken that are completely within our rights, are 100% based in fact and are in keeping with our steadfast support of President Donald J. Trump,” Delgado wrote.
She was referring to the same conflict that would reverberate in some of the few incidents documented by FlaglerLive through a complete examination of all election-related calls to the sheriff’s office since early voting began (there’s not been a dozen, most of which were not even incidents). A summary of those incidents follows.
On Sunday at the Community Center, an unknown person confronted Bob Updegrave, a dean of the local Republican Party, when the the man uprooted a Milissa Holland sign, threw it across the parking lot and got in Updegrave’s face, yelling obscenities and such things as “what are you going to do about it?” A sheriff’s report notes a deputy spoke with the man, who did not dispute that he’d picked up the sign, claiming it was too close to his personal space. The deputy warned the man to control himself or he’d be asked to leave. The man’s name was not noted, though he appeared to be known to law enforcement. Soon after deputies left, the man again confronted Updegrave and was heard hurling a threat: “Someone overheard the male say I’m going to come back and shoot the MF,'” the 911 dispatcher reported. But no further incidents ensued after the man left, and Updegrave has kept manning his polling location.
“I feel perfectly fine being there myself, having my wife there and other volunteers,” he said. “My only difficulty is with some of the Republican thugs.” He had not misspoken: asked to repeat what he’d said, he repeated the description: he was alluding to a deep and ongoing rift within the Republican Party in Flagler that has bitterly pitted one group of Republicans against another. The rift is especially prominent in the race for City Council, with incumbents Milissa Holland and Nick Klufas on one side, and candidates Alan Lowe, Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa on the other.
The day before, Barbosa was at the center of an intervention by the sheriff’s office and Lenhart herself after inappropriately confronting a polling deputy at the early voting site at the public library in Palm Coast, where Barbosa, Lowe and Danko have been aggressively campaigning together the two weeks of early voting.
The polling deputy there, Joseph Dipaolo, reported to the sheriff’s office that Barbosa was violating the 150-foot no-solicitation zone and unlawfully entering the polling station “while wearing a political shirt with his name on it as well as a hat with the same insignia,” according to the sheriff’s report. Earlier in the day Dipaolo had found Barbosa walking into the zone with political signs, which is not allowed, and parking his campaign-sign-addled truck within the 150-foot zone, also not allowed.
Dipaolo tried to explain the rules to Barbosa, who was “argumentative and went back and forth with Poll Deputy Dipaolo, while standing close to his face, almost touching chests,” the report states. “At some point during this, [Barbosa] took out his phone, possibly recording, and stated, ‘Don’t touch me.'” When Precinct Clerk David Preat was alerted to the issue and went outside, he saw Barbosa “yelling” in Dipaolo’s face, though neither men made contact with each other. Preat got between them and broke up the confrontation, only for Barbosa to then argue with Preat, according to the report.
Lenhart at the scene determined that no law enforcement action was necessary as long as Barbosa remained out of the 150-foot zone and the polling location. She made allowance for Barbosa to cross into the zone to use the library’s restroom, “however,” the sheriff’s report states, “it is unverified what Barbosa’s] actions were while he was inside the building today.” As for the truck, “Lenhart advised that, due to the truck being there before the zones were established, it may stay there,” the incident report states. (“That parking spot is not fully within the 150 feet” that was measured on the first day of early voting, Lenhart clarified today.)
Last week Lowe himself called the Sheriff’s Office. It was the late morning on Oct. 22. He wanted to report that he was receiving death threats. He blamed it on Holland and on Delgado’s political action committee, which had disseminated texts and a video commercial tying Lowe to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In the early 1990s Lowe had renounced his citizenship and declared himself a “sovereign citizen,” a movement that the FBI has unquestionably connected to domestic terrorism, though Lowe himself says it was a brief and inactive phase when he was battling the Internal Revenue Service over unpaid taxes, and exploring new avenues in his personal faith. (Holland said she has no knowledge of the ad Lowe is referring to.)
In fact, Lowe had not been threatened, at least not according to state law’s definition of a threat, as a sheriff’s deputy soon found out. “He has had several people walk past his tent saying rude statements,” the deputy reported, according to sheriff’s dispatch notes. “Lowe advised me that he hasn’t received any threats over the phone or any threats in person.”
“Nobody has said that, they said I should be hung or I should be executed,” Lowe told the deputy, saying he wasn’t worried for himself so much as for his fiancee, home alone. “I don’t know what can actually be done about it but I just want a record of it made.” The deputy who agreed it was “terrible,” attributing it to “that time of the year.” (Lowe in his encounter with the deputy then went into campaign mode, describing Holland as “stupid”). He told the deputy that he does carry a gun. “I’m just letting you guys know, if somebody comes up,” Lowe told the deputy, waving his hands and leaving the rest to the deputy’s imagination.
Two other incidents involve concerns from voters. The first day of early voting, a voter reported the supervisor of elections, the sheriff’s office and Palm Coast City Hall what he described in an email as “a hostile experience encountered at around 10:15 this morning near the entrance of the Palm Coast Community Center.”
“While standing in line for my handicapped wife,” the voter reported, “I noticed an elder gentleman approach her as she stood across from me taking in the shade of a palm near the front door.” He took the conversation to be small talk. It wasn’t. The man with the dog was telling his wife to vote Trump. “I can’t help you there,” she told him. “Then you’ll become a socialist,” the man with the dog told her. “Oh, well,” she replied. He then started broadcasting to the rest of the line: “She’s voting Democrat.”
“I don’t know if this sort of behavior is a concern for the general population, but it concerns me,” the voter wrote. “And, I must tell you I am considering my options at this point. But before I do, I would like to know what your agency will do with my complaint and what can be discussed to put it in proper context as I’m sure some might think this is acceptable behavior.” The email was forwarded to the city clerk, who referred him to the sheriff’s office if he felt threatened. He did so on Wednesday, finding out from a deputy that no threat had taken place.
And finally, Wednesday morning, an F-Section resident contacted the Sheriff’s Office to report what he took to be accurate, but what is in fact bogus fearmongering disseminated here and there on social media: that there would be “BLM and Antifa riots” the day after the election, and that one such riot was scheduled for Palm Coast. The Sheriff’s Office forwarded the information to its “tips” office.
Meanwhile, voting has continued largely untroubled, ending Thursday, with two days left of early voting, with some 53,500 ballots already cast and a 58 percent turnout so far in the election. (See our earlier story today, “Ballots Cast in Flagler Near 90% of 2016 Total, But Turnout Record Still Distant Absent Massive Election Day Surge.”)
Lenhart has not been unduly distracted by candidates or volunteers playing beyond their sandboxes. “I’ve been out to speak with each tent here at the elections office each day and everyone is getting along fine,” Lenhart said on Wednesday.