Florida Republican leaders say they are standing by a former Miami-Dade state senator who was arrested on election fraud charges Thursday, rebuking Democratic calls to hold a special election in order to ensure a legitimate vote.
Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature is among dozens of states promoting stricter “voter integrity” laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump‘s unfounded claims of fraud in the November 2020 election. But Florida Republicans say the GOP state senator who was elected—by a slim 32-vote margin—through allegedly deceptive means instead has the party’s “full support.”
Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle filed felony charges against former state Senator Frank Artiles Thursday, accusing him of organizing a $50,000 “ghost campaign” aimed at unseating incumbent Democratic state senator Jose Javier Rodriguez. The “sham” independent candidate neither lived in the district nor campaigned for the seat.
Prosecutors say Artiles deliberately sought to “confuse voters and siphon votes” from the incumbent Democrat. Artiles was arrested and charged with three separate campaign finance crimes tied to the 2020 Florida state Senate elections. But the GOP-controlled Florida legislature said it will not hold a special election to ensure voter trust.
State investigators say Artiles, who resigned in April 2017 over his use of a racial slur, paid Alex Rodriguez, who confusingly has same last name as the incumbent, to run as an independent in order to disrupt the election and hand Republican challenger Ileana Garcia the victory. Garcia went on to win by just 32 votes, and the independent challenger picked up 6,000 votes.
“[Garcia’s] victory is clearly tainted and will forever cast a cloud on her service in the Senate, not to mention the entire Florida Senate,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz told reporters Friday. “This type of activity calls into question the very integrity and fairness of our electoral process.”
The GOP Senate leaders issued their own statement, saying Garcia was not involved in the alleged election fraud crimes. The legislators have a process in place which could oust Garcia and hold a special election, but Republicans say they will not do so.
“Senator Garcia has the full support of President Simpson as she continues to serve her constituents,” Simpson’s statement read. “President Simpson and Senator Garcia fully support the ongoing efforts of law enforcement as the investigation into this matter continues.”
Artiles resigned in April 2017 after he used a racial slur during a private conversation over drinks with two Black colleagues. Artiles used the n-word to incorrectly reference who he thought elected state Senate President Joe Negron as GOP leader. Despite his claim, there were no Black lawmakers in the Republican caucus at the time, the Miami Herald reported.
The Florida GOP is only the latest state Republican Party to deny requests for either recounts or audits of their own candidates despite weeks of echoing Trump’s unfounded claims. In Arizona, GOP chairwoman Kelli Ward scoffed at fellow Republicans who said her slim victory as chairperson should be audited.
Newsweek reached out to Florida Republican state Senate leaders for additional remarks Saturday.