SWFL elected official accused of ballot harvesting and intimidation

Published: September 7, 2022 5:23 PM EDT
Updated: September 7, 2022 5:24 PM EDT

A Fort Myers city councilwoman has been accused of ballot harvesting and intimidation by her opponent on the campaign trail.

Terolyn Watson is the council member for Ward 3. She is headed to a runoff election in November against Chantel Rhodes, the second top-vote getter during the August primary.

Rhodes filed a complaint with the Lee Supervisor of Elections, Florida Department of State and the Federal Election Commission.

In it, she claims Watson visited voters in their homes, helping to fill out and submit mail-in ballots. Rhodes said voters told her Watson was helping to fill out ballots and intimidating constituents.

Rhodes believes the practice has gone on for years and that voters felt intimidated to do what Watson wanted.

“I was shocked that this was still happening in this day and time by an elected official,” Rhodes said.

This practice is referred to as ballot harvesting, going door-to-door to mail-in ballots for voters before Election Day takes place.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law to crack down on this issue.

“Ballot harvesting has no place in the state of Florida, and we need to increase penalties for those who do it,” DeSantis said at the time.

The law ups ballot harvesting charges from a misdemeanor to a felony, punishable up tp five years in prison.

Watson has held her seat since 2015.

In August’s primary election, she took 48% of the vote, including 517 mail-in votes, more than double that Rhodes received.

“Ballot harvesting can definitely be the difference in who wins in the election, especially when you see smaller numbers of people turning out to vote,” Rhodes said. “Those are the difference makers and those have been the difference makers.”

WINK News reached out to Watson’s personal number and office, leaving a message with her assistant, but she did not return a request for comment.

Rhodes said she wants to increase awareness before November’s Election Day.

“Understand that this is a crime,” Rhodes said. “Understand that this is a practice that people have used over the years to pretty much swindle individuals out of their vote.”

It is important to note, Watson has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing or election misconduct.