Wherever crowds gathered in the flat, lake-dotted swath of Florida between Orlando and Ocala, it seemed that Cheryl Hall was there: clad in red, white and blue, clipboard in hand, signing up new voters at the Mount Dora Arts Festival, the Ocoee Founders’ Day party, the Taste of South Lake fair in Clermont and more.
“She just seemed like a diligent, hard-working lady,” said Alan Hays, the supervisor of elections in Lake County, who appears in a photo on Ms. Hall’s Facebook page, his arm firmly clasped around her shoulder. “No one suspected anything was amiss until we got phone calls from people.”
Something was indeed amiss: Ms. Hall, a 63-year-old and very ardent Republican whose ranch house in Clermont sports life-size cutouts of Donald and Melania Trump and a MAGA poster in the window, was charged last week with 10 felony counts of submitting false voter registration forms. On at least 10 forms traced to Ms. Hall, officials said, the party affiliations of already-registered Democrats and Independents had been switched to Republican. More than 100 others that may be tied to her contained missing or bogus data such as wrong birth dates.
Ms. Hall was a canvasser for Florida First Inc., a recently created nonprofit that is financed at least in part by a dark-money group formed by Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and other Trump associates.
The Florida nonprofit group, which has filed more than 30,000 new registrations according to the Florida secretary of state, is part of a $20 million bid by the group, America First Policies, to register Republicans in battleground states before November. State officials have said there is no evidence so far of widespread fraud in Florida First’s voter-registration efforts.
But the improprieties of which Ms. Hall stands accused are hardly unheard of in voter-registration drives — particularly those that, like Florida First, have partisan backing. Signing up new voters is a low-paying temp job that requires few skills, and in states that allow it (Florida does not), workers have quotas or are offered cash incentives to sign up as many new registrants as possible.
The result is a small but steady trickle of fraudulent registrations, enough to demand added vigilance by election officials, but rarely to pose any serious threat to election integrity. Republicans have been most vocal about allegations of voter fraud, but Ms. Hall’s case is a reminder that neither party has a monopoly on virtue.
In north Florida’s Leon County, home to the state capital, Tallahassee, authorities are scrutinizing registrations by a liberal-backed nonprofit in which two voters have complained that their party registrations were switched and one newly registered voter was found to be dead, as first reported by the Miami Herald.
Lake County officials have said they still are not certain what prompted the bogus forms attributed to Ms. Hall, which contained such obvious errors that they were quickly caught.
Florida court records suggest her life has been checkered by both financial and legal problems, including a 2003 charge of unemployment compensation fraud, which resulted in probation, and a 2014 arrest for stealing donations from the Salvation Army. That charge was dropped after she entered a pretrial diversion program.
Ms. Hall was active in local Republican Party circles, and her Facebook page was festooned with photographs — some of which have been recently removed — of her posing with conservative luminaries, such as Donald Trump Jr., Sean Hannity, Roger J. Stone Jr. and the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.
She was a member of the Lake County Republican Party county executive committee, in charge of getting out the vote in her precinct, said Walter B. Price, Sr., chairman of the county party. He said proceedings have begun to remove her from those posts.
Ms. Hall did not respond to requests for comment, including a note left at her house.
Mr. Hays, the Lake County election supervisor, said she helped file more than 500 registration forms in his county alone before being arrested.
“We already had extensive quality control measures in place that helped us assist the supervisor of elections in their investigation,” said Chris Gober, Florida First’s attorney, adding that there is no financial incentive for any canvassing employee to rack up additional voter registration applications. “Our mission is to register voters and ensure that every Florida resident has an opportunity to vote, regardless of ideology or political affiliation.”
Mr. Hays said Florida First traced the questionable forms to Ms. Hall because they included a number assigned to her for registration work. He said he hopes to meet with other election officials and voter groups soon to “find out what measures we can take to prevent this from happening again.”
The most cited example of registration irregularities involved the left-leaning community organizing group commonly known as ACORN whose registration drives became a target of fraud accusations by Republicans during the 2008 presidential campaign. The group said it had hired 13,000 registration canvassers and signed up 1.3 million new voters in 2007 and 2008; a handful of those workers were found guilty of fraud, such as registering children and nonexistent voters.
The group said most charges were politically inflated — in some cases, it maintained, workers were cited for bogus registrations that they actually had flagged for election workers. But it said in a statement in 2008 that “in any endeavor of this size, some people will engage in inappropriate conduct.” The controversy forced ACORN to shut down in 2010.
Other examples have occurred over time: a Los Angeles voter drive that paid $2.50 in 1992 for each new registration and enrolled a dead person and a baby; an Orange County, Calif., drive in 2006 by a Republican contractor that switched 65 voters from Democrats to Republicans; a 2010 campaign by a pro-Democrat labor union that filed as many as a thousand suspicious forms; a Pennsylvania college student who pleaded guilty in 2017 to creating 18 fake registrations to help a co-worker meet a quota.
While such fraud is a serious matter, it generally poses a less serious threat to the integrity of elections, said David J. Becker, the director of the Center for Election Innovation and Reform, who helped create a clearinghouse for verifying voter registrations that is used by election officials nationwide.
“Election officials have to be vigilant against such attacks, and in this case, they were,” he said in an email. “I think the likelihood of detecting an attack like this is very high, as is the chance to mitigate any negative impacts, even if it makes things more difficult for election officials. But in this era of foreign interference and win-at-all-costs partisanship, add this to the list of things that election officials are worrying about.”
The cases have often fueled a political divide between Democrats who have long relied on sign-ups of new voters to build their ranks and Republicans, whose supporters historically tended to be better educated and more likely to register without prompting.
Texas Republicans enacted perhaps the nation’s strictest curbs on voter registration drives. Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature crimped Democratic registration efforts in the 2012 campaign season by enacting such tough restrictions on signing up voters that some groups gave up. The law later was overturned in court.
Amaris Castillo contributed reporting from Clermont, Fla.