Updated: 6:53 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 | Posted: 11:08 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012

Local state attorney opens probe into 8 felons voting in Palm Beach County, based on Post investigative story

By Daphne Duret
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Palm Beach County State Attorney Peter Antonacci Tuesday announced an investigation into reports of eight convicted felons voting in local elections without first having their civil rights restored.

The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday that an analysis of Palm Beach County voting records showed eight felons who should have been ineligible to vote nonetheless cast ballots in the Aug. 14 primary. The state parole commission, which is in charge of restoring felons’ rights, confirmed that none of the eight had been granted clemency.

One of them, Peter Costello, a felon convicted of racketeering and fraud in 1998, said in an interview with the Post that he submitted an absentee ballot for Tuesday’s presidential election.

Like the other seven men, Costello, 74, of Delray Beach has voted several times in the past decade, county voting records show. Five are Democrats and three are Republicans. Four are white, four black.

Felons who “willfully” register or vote when they don’t have their rights restored are committing a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

On Tuesday morning, Christine Weiss, spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, confirmed that Antonacci has launched an investigation into the matter. She declined to discuss any details.

The felons’ ability to vote despite a decade of concentrated state efforts to bar felons from the polls reveals the fragility of the election system in the run-up to another presidential race in which Florida could be pivotal. It also shows the difficulty of weeding out ineligible voters under an inherently complicated system involving precise matches among millions of records.

The state has zero tolerance for illegal voters of any kind, Department of State spokesman Chris Cate told the Post. “The department has been very effective at identifying potential felons on the voter rolls, but it is a constant daily effort,” he said.

In late October, the state had a backlog of 470 potential felons among newly registered Palm Beach County voters, Cate said.

“There are nearly 500,000 new registered (statewide) voters since the primary election,” he said. “We have been diligently working to identify any felons who may have illegally registered.”

Cate did not return phone calls seeking comment on Antonacci’s probe into the felons’ voting in Palm Beach County.

The Department of State’s scrutiny didn’t stop Linzy Chavers Jr.
Chavers, 43, of Riviera Beach, got out of prison on a drug charge in 2006, registered to vote in 2012 and cast his first vote in August. In a brief phone interview, Chavers insisted he has had his rights restored, but checks by the Post and the state indicate he hasn’t. He said he voted to perform his civic duty.

Costello was sentenced to more than a year in prison and 10 years of probation in 1998 on racketeering and fraud charges. It’s not that he was never told he would not be allowed to vote, his wife, Fran, said. It’s that he never got in trouble for voting and election officials kept sending him a voting card.

“His page is right after my page,” she told the Post. “And nothing was ever flagged on it. … They kept sending him new voter cards and nothing says, ‘Don’t come this year.’ “

Local state attorney opens probe into 8 felons voting in Palm... | www.palmbeachpost.com