A father of a Parkland school shooting victim appeared on “Fox & Friends” over the weekend and suggested, without evidence, that Democrats registered the accused shooter to vote from jail as part of an effort to steal Florida’s election.
“It just shows you how despicable these Democrats are that they’ll stoop that low to go into the prison, the jail, and register these criminals,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was one of 17 people Nikolas Cruz allegedly shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. “It’s never been done in 20 years.”
Citing a “tip from deputies at the jail,” Pollack said the plan failed because Broward County — which is now involved in a recount battle that could swing Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial elections — failed to send the inmates their ballots in time to vote.
“They probably shouldn’t be voting anyway,” Fox’s Katie Pavlich remarked after listening to Pollack’s accusations, which neither she nor her two co-hosts challenged at any point, although they contradicted all public evidence.
There was a kernel of truth at the heart of the segment and the spiraling social media outrage that accompanied it: Nikolas Jacob Cruz really did register to vote in July, listing his home address as the county jail where he awaits trial after police say he confessed to the mass shooting.
He registered as a Republican, which “Fox & Friends” didn’t mention.
There is nothing suspicious or mysterious about what Cruz did from his cell. In general, jail inmates are constitutionally entitled to register and vote before their trials, assuming no prior convictions or legal disqualifications. Broward County records show that in 2016 and previous elections, several inmates did exactly that from the same jail where Cruz now sits.
“It’s absolutely normal. It’s his constitutional right,” said Broward County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright. “Nothing different happened this year from any other year.”
The Fox hosts were “buying into a grieving father’s statements,” she added. “They’re lies.”
Since discovering Cruz’s voter registration on Twitter on Saturday, the father has claimed that the Broward County sheriff and elections supervisor — both Democrats — planned it in an effort to steal the Senate election from Gov. Rick Scott, who holds a razor-thin lead over Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson as the state heads into a recount.
“We won’t allow these unethical liberal Democrats to steal @ScottforFlorida US Senate seat,” Pollack wrote before his “Fox & Friends” appearance. “They stoop as low as registering a known mass murderer to vote. How can you even trust a recount when the ballots may be compromised.”
It’s unclear how registering a single inmate — as a Republican, to boot — would help Democrats swing the election. Pollack has provided no evidence that anyone was sent to the jail to assist Cruz, who simply had to obtain an application, fill it out and mail it to the county elections office to receive a ballot and vote by mail.
“There are some practical barriers but no legal barriers to voting from jail, nor should there be,” said Christopher Uggen, a University of Minnesota sociology professor who studies the disenfranchisement of prisoners.
Sheriffs can make it more difficult or easier for prisoners to vote, he noted.
If inmates have Internet access, they can simply download and print a registration form. Uggen said the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups hold voter registration drives in some jails, when authorities let them.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Center for American Progress reported last year about a lawsuit against an Indiana sheriff, claiming jail inmates weren’t properly informed that they had the right to vote.
Uggen didn’t know what the situation was like inside Cruz’s jail. The Broward County sheriff’s spokeswoman, Coleman-Wright, said simply that the department serves as a “mail courier” between inmates and the elections office.
It didn’t seem to be an issue in years past. The Washington Post can find no signs that anyone complained when a man named Jonathan Gordon registered to vote from Broward County jail in 2016 — a year after his arrest on a charge of premeditated murder inside a house a few miles from the scene of the Parkland shooting.
But then, that single killing wasn’t a national tragedy. And Gordon’s registration didn’t intersect with a brutally contested midterm election in which Republican candidates and the president of the United States has leveled baseless accusations of voter fraud.
Cruz’s did. And so:
The image of Cruz’s registration spread virally through a contextless vacuum. Somewhere along the way, someone cropped the image so that it appeared on far-right Facebook groups with the defendant’s Republican affiliation cut off.
All the better to blame it on Democrats.
From Minnesota — where he advocates for inmates to have more voting access, not less — Uggen said he wasn’t much surprised by any of it.
“If we examine the voter rolls, we will find people who have done terrible things,” he said. “But this is kind of a fundamental principle of democracy and the franchise: All citizens have the right to vote.”