The process of removing Jim Garth, president of the political action committee Citizens Improving Gulf County, from the voter roles at the recommendation of State Glenn Hess has been stopped by Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon.
Hanlon said until provided with evidence that Garth should be stripped of his voting rights “the matter is over as far as I am concerned.”
In addition, the State Attorney’s Office contacted Hanlon last week and recommended the removal process “be stopped at this time,” Hanlon said.
That call came shortly after Hanlon had contacted the Florida Bureau of Voter Registration within the Division of Elections about the situation.
Hanlon said the deputy of the bureau, Maria Matthews, and the bureau’s chief legal counsel was consulted and provided the information to date.
The opinion Hanlon received was that a letter from State Attorney Glenn Hess stating his office found evidence of a felony conviction in Garth’s past and that “apparently” his civil rights had not been restored was insufficient to revoke Garth’s voting rights.
Matthews and legal counsel, Hanlon said, could find no evidence of the conviction in their own search and said that without attached copies of evidence from the State Attorney, the letter did not constitute evidence in itself.
Hanlon, who is the final authority on removing a voter from the Gulf County rolls, said he immediately stopped the process.
“Taking somebody off the voter rolls, that is a pretty major thing to have happen,” Hanlon said. “That is our most fundamental right, voting. I could not remove anybody just based on a letter.”
Hanlon said that if provided information on the felony conviction and lack of restoration of rights, he would begin anew the process of removing Garth from the voting rolls.
Garth’s “apparent” voting rights and felony conviction – which Garth has stated could only be the result of actions more than four decades ago – was a finding from the State Attorney investigation into an alleged “extortion” attempt against County Commissioner Warren Yeager.
Hess closed that investigation, which examined actions by Citizens Improving Gulf County and St. Joe Beach resident Tom Graney, the only person mentioned in the letter closing the case, on Oct. 16.
In closing the case at that time Hess made no mention of Garth’s conviction. The case was reopened based on “new information” after a “heated exchange” about the investigation during the Oct. 25 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.
During that meeting former Commissioner Bill Williams acknowledged wearing a wire during the investigation and a private citizen made assertions about the case that ultimately were not borne out by the investigative file released to the public by Hess’s office.
Commissioners spent more than 20 minutes criticizing the actions of the members of Citizens Improving Gulf County and Williams repeatedly used the word “blackmail” to describe the allegations.
The case was finally closed last month.
In closing the case, Hess said while he found probable cause of extortion, he added that as prosecutor he would have to weigh whether reasonable people would see the case as one of just dirty politics.
The lone information in the investigative file dated after June 2012 was the information about Garth’s “apparent” voting situation, which Hess said had been discovered during the initial investigation yet was not mentioned when he closed the case Oct. 16.
Garth said he has twice contacted the State Attorney’s Office for information on the felony conviction to begin the clemency process – as Hess recommended in his letter last month closing the case, Garth could restore his voting rights within the ensuing 30 days – and received only a phone call that the office would be in touch.
This paper also sought clarification on the felony charges last month with no response.