The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Trump tried to register to vote in Florida using an out-of-state address

Presiden Trump participates in an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 15. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump originally tried to register to vote in Florida while claiming his “legal residence” was in another part of the country — Washington, D.C. — according to Florida elections records.

The September 2019 registration application listed Trump’s legal residence as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the location of the White House. That created a potential problem for Trump: Florida law requires voters to be legal residents of the state. A month later, Trump resubmitted his application to use a Florida address and in March he voted by mail in Florida’s Republican primary.

The revisions complicate Trump’s own record as a voter at a time when the president has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in mail-in balloting.

President Trump’s Florida voter registration form

Trump’s original voter-registration application, which was obtained by The Washington Post via a public records request, was filed during a time when the president was making a highly publicized move to change his permanent residence from his Manhattan penthouse to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Fla.

The voter application is dated Sept. 27, 2019 — the same day that Trump made the domicile change. On one of his forms that day he was telling Florida officials that his “legal residence” was Washington, D.C., and on another he was saying he was a “bona fide resident” of Palm Beach.

Florida voter-registration applicants are warned on registration forms that they may be subject to fines and even prison time if they do not provide truthful information.

On Thursday, an elections fraud complaint was filed with the Florida Department of State against Trump by Jim Watson, a semiretired truck driver from Boynton Beach, Fla. In the complaint, Watson asserts that Trump is prohibited from using Mar-a-Lago as his legal residence because it is a private club.

“This is in a recorded agreement, a covenant running with the land to the benefit of all Florida and Palm Beach County residents,” the complaint states.

Noting that Trump now uses Mar-a-Lago as his legal residence for his voter registration, the complaint says that “the Mar a Lago [sic] Club is not a property where anyone can legally reside.”

A letter accompanying the complaint asks that it be forwarded to the state attorney in Palm Beach County.

The complaint raises the stakes in an ongoing battle over Trump’s residency, shifting it squarely into the realm of Florida authorities, who will be faced with handling the politically charged matter.

Watson is represented by Reginald Stambaugh, an attorney for a Mar-a-Lago neighbor who has been engaged in a lengthy dispute with Trump over the president’s plans to build a dock at the club. In an interview, Stambaugh asserted that Florida law requires an investigation of any properly filed elections fraud complaint. At least one additional elections fraud complaint is being prepared, according to documents reviewed by The Post.

Watson declined to comment on his complaint.

“The fact is President Trump is a legal resident of Florida who legally votes in the state. Liberal Democrats having an issue with where the president lives has absolutely nothing to do with the president’s right to vote in his home state. This is a ridiculous and partisan zoning complaint. That’s it,” Justin Clark — a senior political advisor and senior counsel for Trump’s re-election campaign — said in an email a week after publication of this article.

There has been at least one recent instance in Florida in which a public official faced legal consequences for registering to vote at an address that was not her legal residence. Last year, the city manager of Deltona, Fl., entered into an agreement with the local state’s attorney’s office to pay more than $5,000 in fees and reimbursements for the state’s investigation to avoid being prosecuted on criminal charges in a voter-registration case. She had registered to vote using the address of Deltona’s City Hall, rather than her home address, and had cast ballots in elections using that registration.

In Palm Beach, where Trump has registered to vote, there was a high-profile arrest in 1993 of a popular restaurateur who was charged with voter fraud and briefly jailed because he registered to vote in Palm Beach but lived in the neighboring city of West Palm Beach. A felony charge in the case was eventually dropped.

A month passed before Trump filed the second voter registration application, this time listing 1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach — the address of Mar-a-Lago — as his legal residence. There also was another difference: Trump’s original voter-registration directed election officials to send his registration materials to Mar-a-Lago in care of another person — Sean McCabe, a vice president and general manager of Trump Florida Properties in the neighboring city of West Palm Beach. (McCabe’s first name — Shawn — is misspelled.)

It’s unclear precisely what happened during the 31 days between Trump’s two applications. It’s possible that Florida elections officials flagged the D.C. address on the application and may have requested a change or clarification.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link and the state’s Division of Elections did not respond to written questions. Trump Organization representatives did not respond to written questions, and McCabe could not be reached for comment.

Trump has used his change of residency as a political tool, saying at the time of his announcement that he had been treated badly in New York. Beyond that, he hasn’t explained his reasons.

Voting outside the District of Columbia while serving as president is not uncommon. President Barack Obama cast his vote in the 2016 presidential election in his hometown of Chicago, and President George W. Bush voted by mail in Texas in the 2008 presidential election.

Trump, however, has sent confusing signals about his official state of residence beyond the recent change on his Florida voter-registration forms. On Monday, he declared, “I live in Manhattan,” during a call with the nation’s governors about the response to unrest related to protests over the death of an unarmed black man who had been held down by police in Minneapolis.

Afterward, prominent Democratic lawyer Marc E. Elias tweeted: “Sounds like New York may have a good claim for taxes. And Florida for voter fraud.”

Questions about the legality of Trump’s change of domicile surfaced in the past few weeks during an otherwise mundane fight he’s been waging since 2018 to persuade Palm Beach to let him build a dock at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump made Florida his residence. He also may have made a legal mess.

Trump initially made the request, which is being considered by the Palm Beach City Council, saying it was needed to enhance security to protect him. He later changed the request, saying Mar-a-Lago is his “personal residence” and that the dock would be “for private family use only.” According to Mar-a-Lago’s website, he maintains “private quarters” at the club. Trump calls Mar-a-Lago his “Winter White House” and has traveled there more than two dozen times during his presidency, staying there well over 100 days, according to a Washington Post tally.

Opponents of the dock unearthed an agreement with the city that Trump signed in the early 1990s converting Mar-a-Lago’s use from a single-family residence to a private club. At the time, his attorney told the council that he would not live at the club, but would have use of the facilities like any other member. The agreement also bans members from staying at the club for more than 21 days a year spread over three nonconsecutive visits.

“It’s one or the other — it’s a club or it’s your home,” Stambaugh, the Mar-a-Lago neighbor’s attorney, told The Post in an interview last month. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Trump withdrew the dock request in early May — three days after The Post reported on the existence of the use agreement and the potential legal problems it posed. His attorney told the council that he would revisit the request at a future date.

Under fire, Trump withdraws controversial Mar-a-Lago dock plan

Glenn Zeitz, a Philadelphia-area attorney who has a home in Palm Beach and has been informally advising the dock opponents, has said that the withdrawal has no bearing on the legal issues raised by Trump’s domicile issue. Zeitz has said that Trump’s decision to use Mar-a-Lago as his domicile may represent “a substantial and serious potential legal impediment” to Trump registering to vote in Florida. The revelation about Trump using an out-of-state address for his first voter application only adds more questions, he said.

“It’s just beyond the pale,” Zeitz said, “that something is being done like this.”

Amy Gardner, Philip Bump and Alice Crites contributed to this report.