Official: 5 stolen absentee ballots cast in central Florida

With three boys 5 years of age and under at home, Joy McGahey and her husband thought it would be easier to vote by absentee ballot this year.  When they didn't receive their ballots in the mail, they called the elections office to find out what was going on.

“I was looking for the ballots the past couple of weeks and they never came,” said McGahey,  “so I looked online and tracked them and saw, not only had they already been sent out, they had already been sent back into the office.” 

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel says the mail ballots were stolen from five voters in three homes in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Altamonte Springs near Orlando. Ertel says they were fraudulently submitted, dated Oct. 12.

“It bothers me, makes me wonder what’s safe in my mailbox,” said Dr. Larry Halperin, explaining the he and his wife never received their absentee ballots.  "I was not happy.  Obviously, someone was playing games and doing things that should not have been done and messing with my ballot.”

Ertel said Tuesday that none of the fraudulent ballots were counted. He said that at least two of them had already been flagged and set aside, because the signature on the ballot did not match the voter signature on file with his office.

“This is exceedingly rare," said Ertel.  "I’ve been here 12 years, and never have I seen more than one person in the same neighborhood together say this happened at the same time in the very same neighborhood.”   

After election officials found out was going on, Ertel ordered his election workers to check every mailed-in ballot that came from an address within two miles of the stolen ones.

"The good news is that it's just these five voters," Ertel said.

Ertel says he'll notify law enforcement after the election, because he can't release the ballot until after then. They have been set aside and will be handed over to the Altamonte Springs Police Department next week.  

Meanwhile, the Halperins and other victims -- including registered Republican Joy McGahey -- were given new ballots.  All five went down to Ertel’s office and cast their votes on provisional ballots.  Ertel says all five of those ballots have been counted.  

“Glad to be counted,” said Dr. Halperin.  

Those convicted of voter fraud could be fined up to $5,000 or imprisoned up to 5 years.  Florida Department of State spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice says there's no indication it's a widespread issue.