Former Florida GOP chair slams party: Voter ID a ‘marketing tool’ to suppress minority votes

Jim Greer, former Chair of Florida Republican Party.

Jim Greer, former Chair of Florida's Republican Party.

This post has been updated.

These days, Jim Greer is watching Florida politics from the sidelines.

The former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and onetime political sidekick of the then-governor and onetime rising national GOP star, Charlie Crist, is currently awaiting trial for allegedly paying himself to raise money for the party – a fundraising contract he claims Crist and other party leaders approved. But Greer, who later broke with Crist and endorsed Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate, only to find himself forced to step down as chairman and charged with money laundering and grand theft, is far from silent about what he claims is his party’s use of voter fraud fears as a pretext to sabotage minority voters.

“The voter fraud issue is just a nonexistent issue,” Greer told theGrio in a wide ranging interview. “It’s a marketing tool. When I was chairman, in three-and-a-half years, we never had one meeting that voter fraud issues were a major problem. The only time you ever had issue with [fraud] was absentee votes.”

Indeed, in Miami, allegations of absentee ballot fraud are roiling the recent election for Miami-Dade mayor. And a national scandal is unfolding involving a highly-paid Republican Party contractor, Nathan Sproul, whose company is alleged to have turned in dozens of fraudulent voter registration applications in Florida, and which is linked to applications that were discarded by a Sproul contract employee in Virginia.

“Most people say non-citizens shouldn’t be voting, but when you get past that you see there really is no issue here,” Greer said. “This is simply being done to provide a political advantage to this political party in this election, and do you think that’s right? Most people would say ‘hell no.’ The party hopes people just hear, ‘hey, non-citizens voting!’”

“There not about to let 2008 happen again,” Greer said of Florida Republicans, referring to the presidential election in which then-Senator Barack Obama won the state, and the presidency, many Republicans theorize, in part because then-Governor Charlie Crist allowed long lines at the polls to stay open.

Greer said that soon after the election, senior consultants met in his office to discuss how to prevent a repeat.

“We did have meetings where there were discussions about ending early vote or limiting it, because I was shown data that early voters were not Republican,” Greer said, referring to senior consultants who he said regularly met with him and other party leaders to discuss legislative strategy. Referring to his party’s ballot performance, Greer said, “we win on Election Day. We lose on early voting. My staff showed that to me on several occasions.”

Greer didn’t mince words in describing how his party feels about early voting, which in Florida was reduced to nine days from 14, under legislation signed by the current governor, Rick Scott. “If Republicans had their way, they’d do away with it. It’s all part of, unfortunately, the Republican Party’s effort from a strategic standpoint, to keep voters from getting to the polls, and that’s a real shame.”

Greer said the GOP’s attitude toward minority voters extends beyond Florida.

“Their strategy is, solve the problem today. And how are they trying to solve the problem today? Voter suppression,” he said. “Now the next question is, where do you go from here? We’re very successful in voter suppression in the last two elections, but unless you’re going to just pass legislation to take the vote away from some people, what is your long term strategy? They’re angry and they think anger and vengeance is going to carry the day. [But] if [Mitt] Romney doesn’t win this election, what will the grassroots of this party say to the grassroots?”

Greer said that as chairman, he sought to reach out to minority voters, who in Florida, as in most of the country, vote overwhelmingly Democratic, with the exception of Cuban-Americans, who lean toward the GOP. He said the party leadership had little interest, particularly in courting African-Americans.

“They opposed all minority outreach programs that I had as chairman, and they just for some reason have given up” on black voters, Greer said. “I had one of my leading consultants tell me that my ideas were going to bring blacks out from under every rock, and they were going to vote Democrat.”

Greer claims he pushed forward anyway, creating an African-American leadership advisory council, and meeting with black newspaper editors and clergy, to try and win support for the party’s small government, low tax message.

“That had never been done,” he said of his party’s black outreach. “And that’s when that discussion [about the futility of courting African-Americans] happened.”

Greer says he was told, “they never vote Republican, chairman.”

“I don’t know how they’re gonna vote, but if they never hear the message, they’re never going to have an opportunity to vote Republican,” Greer said he argued at the time. “Since I’ve left, they disbanded the African-American advisory council. They dismissed the director. They’ve gone back to what they were doing before.”