As the November presidential election approaches, President Trump and Republicans have begun a full-throated assault on vote-by-mail.
Ironically, Trump has probably committed both a crime and voter fraud when he voted by mail with an absentee ballot as a new resident of Florida in the state’s March 17th primary.
The basis for this charge, brought to light yesterday in a Washington Post article, is that Trump is not actually a legal resident of Florida. Here is the argument.
Florida Statutes Title XV Chapter 222.17 defines “manifesting and evidencing domicile in Florida:”
The Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller website defines a “Declaration of Domicile:”
“It is a legal document that defines where you reside and intend to maintain your permanent and principal home and declares that you are a bona fide resident of the State of Florida.”
The Washington Post reported on November 1, 2019 that Trump and the first lady filed Declarations of Domicile with Palm Beach County in late September 2019, declaring 1100 South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach as their residence. On Twitter, Trump confirmed the move to Palm Beach.
1100 South Ocean Boulevard is the address of Mar-a-Lago. The problem with this declaration, however, is that no one is legally allowed to declare Mar-a-Lago as a private residence, per an agreement that Trump made with the Town of Palm Beach in August of 1993. (The complete agreement is found below.)
Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago in 1985 for $10 million from the Marjorie Meriweather Post Foundation. Post and husband E.F. Hutton had built the estate in the ’20s. The Post reports that yearly maintenance for Mar-a-Lago exceeded $3 million.
In 1991, Trump began a series of business bankruptcies. And in November of 1993, he negotiated an agreement with the Town of Palm Beach to convert Mar-a-Lago from a private residence to a private club, which would provide income to cover estate expenses.
The agreement made between Trump and Palm Beach established strict use restrictions for the property including:
- Mar-a-Lago will no longer be defined and taxed as a private residence, but instead is defined and taxed as a private club
- Title to Mar-a-Lago will be transferred from Donald Trump to the Florida company, Mar-a-Lago Club, Inc.
- Mar-a-Lago Club guest suites will not include kitchen facilities
- Mar-a-Lago Club guest suites can be used only by club members, and for no more than three non-consecutive times a year, each stay for no more than seven days
- Trump will not reside at Mar-a-Lago Club, but will be a club member
According to the Post, Trump sued the Town of Palm Beach in 1996 to loosen the August ’93 agreement restrictions, including restrictions on guest suite usage. Trump’s lawsuit was unsuccessful and the original ’93 agreement between Trump and the Town of Palm Beach remains fully intact.
So Trump and the first lady have filed a Declaration of Domicile that lists a Palm Beach County address that is not recognized by the Town of Palm Beach as a private residence and is, in fact, defined by the town specifically as NOT a private residence, but a private club. The Trump’s Declarations of Domicile is as legally dubious as declaring a residence at 301 Worth Avenue, Palm Beach’s Chanel Boutique.
Back to Florida Statutes, chapter 104.011 states:
“A person who willfully submits any false voter registration information commits a felony of the third degree…”
A third degree felony is punishable with fines and up to 5 years in prison.
Of course, it is unlikely that Florida will investigate the president for submitting to it false voter registration information, though it should. Trump enjoys his power to punish perceived enemies. Ask Puerto Rico and San Juan’s mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz about Trump retaliation.
Palm Beach, which has had a tense relationship with Trump since his arrival, has not pursued his blatant disregard for agreed to Mar-a-Lago Club member guest suite restrictions. And the town is now fighting Trump’s attempt to build a boat dock at the property, a project that is also specifically prohibited in the ’93 agreement.
Crystal Mason currently sits in a jail for submitting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Ms. Mason, who was previously convicted of tax fraud, didn’t know she was not eligible to vote in Texas as a convicted felon. A poll worker at her polling location suggested she submit the provisional ballot. The ballot was never counted.
Meanwhile, Trump rails against vote-by-mail as he claims it “substantially increases the risk of crime and voter fraud.” There is a strong argument to be made that the president, himself, has committed both.
Below is the complete August 1993 Mar-a-Lago agreement between Donald Trump and the Town of Palm Beach, Florida. Clicking Download will download the pdf file to your computer.