By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans on Thursday fired a vendor suspected of submitting 108 questionable new voter registrations in Florida's Palm Beach County, ground zero for disputed ballots in 2000's presidential race.
The Republican Party of Florida used Virginia-based Strategic Allied Consulting to help register and turnout voters in Florida, one of a shrinking handful of states President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are contesting. The Florida state party had paid the firm more than $1.3 million so far, and the Republican National Committee used the group for almost $3 million of work in Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia.
"We have zero tolerance for any threat to the integrity of elections. When we were informed of an alleged incident we immediately cut all ties to the company," RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer said.
The state party similarly sought to distance itself from the firm and its main operative, Nathan Sproul.
"We immediately informed the Republican National Committee that we were terminating the contract with the voter-registration vendor we hired at their request because there is no place for voter-registration fraud in Florida," state Republican Party Executive Director Mike Grissom said in a statement.
Strategic Allied Consulting said the suspected forms came from one person and the company was cooperating with elections officials in Florida.
"Strategic has a zero-tolerance policy for breaking the law," said Fred Petti, a company attorney. "Accordingly, once we learned of the irregularities in Palm Beach County, we were able to trace all questionable cards to one individual and immediately terminated our working relationship with the individual in question."
The company did not identify the individual.
Polls show Obama increasing his lead over Romney in Florida, a hard-fought state that hosted the GOP's convention last month. If Romney were to lose Florida and its 29 electoral votes, he would have to sweep other battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire to win the White House.
Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher's staff noticed signatures that looked alike and incomplete forms submitted on Sept. 5 by Strategic Allied Consulting. Bucher met with prosecutors on Monday to request an investigation.
Palm Beach County was at the center of the ballot recount in 2000, with George W. Bush and Al Gore both contesting the results that seemed to give Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan an unusually strong showing. Critics — and legions of attorneys — said the ballot design led many Gore supporters to cast votes for Buchanan.
The subsequent questions that arose about how ballots should be tabulated made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which settled the bitter contest in a 5-4 ruling barring a ballot recount. Bush won.
Sproul, a longtime GOP operative who leads Strategic Allied Consulting, previously worked for Romney's campaign through a separate firm, Lincoln Strategy Group. Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei says the campaign has not used Sproul since 2011, when the campaign was using Lincoln to collect signatures to get on primary ballots.
The deadline to register in Florida for Nov. 6's election is Oct. 9.
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