A government watchdog group in Florida declared this year's midterm elections in the state free of "ghost candidates" — unaffiliated candidates pushed into races to draw off votes.
According to Integrity Florida, during the last presidential election cycle, three ghost candidates were "essentially bribed" to get their names on the ballot to pull votes away from Democrats who were running.
"The criminal use of ghost candidates did not surface again at the state level in 2022, likely because many of those who took advantage of the scheme are facing charges that will result in convictions and possible jailtime," the nonpartisan watchdog group said in a new report, released Tuesday.
This year, there was a report of a possible ghost candidate in a county commission race in a county near Orlando, but the candidate rejected the accusation, saying he was on the ballot as a serious challenger, the group said.
Republicans benefited from a ghost candidate scheme in three Florida districts in 2020, according to Integrity Florida. Although two of the districts would have gone Republican anyway, the outcome was "clearly" affected in one district, the group said.
Unaffiliated candidate Alex Rodriguez ran against incumbent Democrat state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and Republican challenger Ileana Garcia in Florida's 37th district in 2020.
Alex Rodriguez, who the watchdog group notes ran with the same last name as the Democrat incumbent, "did no campaigning yet was the beneficiary of a dark money advertising campaign." He received more than 6,000 votes in the race.
Republican Garcia ousted the incumbent by little over 30 votes, "indicating that the candidate successfully siphoned votes away from the Democratic incumbent," the report reads.
Ghost candidate reports were also recorded in 2018 for the same purpose.
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