JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — *The above video is from a previous report.
Jacksonville sheriff's candidate T.K. Waters responded to a story published in The Tributary questioning the legitimacy of his voter registration information and residency. The story noted that Waters is registered in a Nocatee precinct on the Duval County side even though his campaign says he lives on Jacksonville's Northside.
"The home sits next to the Duval County border with St. Johns County in Precinct 1102. It’s as far from Jacksonville’s Northside as possible within the county, and voting in Precinct 1102 would mean Waters and his wife were voting in different congressional, legislative and local elections than they would be qualified to vote for on the Northside," the story reported. "Registering to vote somewhere other than your residential address is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison."
The story was published Thursday morning. In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Waters said, “First of all, my wife and I have lived in Duval County for nearly a decade and I moved to Jacksonville in 1991. To imply otherwise is a factually inaccurate smear."
"Following the tragic death of our son in our home, my wife and I made the difficult decision to move and began renting in other locations. In between moves earlier this year I inadvertently kept my voter registration at a previous address, though I was not required to change it, until my permanent home, under construction, is complete and ready to move in to.”
Reporter Andrew Pantazi's found that Waters is registered in the same precinct as his wife. She's registered at a home owned by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office sergeant in Nocatee.
A statement from the State Attorney said, “In light of the recent news accounts regarding the voter registration of Jacksonville Sheriff candidate T.K. Waters and the suggestion of potential voter fraud, we have reviewed the relevant statutes and facts regarding Waters’ residency as it relates to his current voter registration information.
Florida jurisprudence defines legal residency as a “place where a person has fixed an abode with the present intention of making it his or her permanent home.” Waters’ current voter registration remains associated with his last “legal residence” in Duval County.
Since moving from his last “legal residence,” Waters has rented a series of temporary residences in Duval County while awaiting the completion of his new home, also located in Duval County. Waters has not yet established a new “legal residence” — as he has not yet lived in a residence intended to become his permanent home — and hence, there is a reasonable basis to support that Waters was not required to change his address with the Supervisor of Elections.
More importantly, we have not been presented with, nor found any evidence of voter fraud.”
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan confirmed that Waters is registered to vote in that Nocatee precinct. Pantazi said the Waters moved out of a home down the street from the sergeant's house about two years ago.
Hogan said Waters changed his residential address in 2018. He said there's no deadline to update a new address, but he noted it should be done before you vote.
Hogan confirmed that Waters has already voted in this election. He also said candidates' addresses don't have to match their voter registration information. Many candidates use the address of their headquarters.
Hogan added that his office has no investigatory or prosecutorial power.
"We accept whatever information is given in the four corners of the document," Hogan said.
First Coast News reached out to Waters for clarification on several issues, including why his wife was registered at the home of another JSO officer in Nocatee, and whether Waters ever lived at the address on his voter registration.
Waters, the former Chief of Investigations for JSO, is endorsed by former Sheriff Mike Williams and Governor Ron DeSantis.
Political scientist Mike Binder said it's surprising that Waters hasn't buttoned up the questions about his residency prior to this particular election.
"The only reason it's happening is the previous sheriff had lived out of county and didn't report that initially, it makes it a salient issue and it's on voters' minds and the fact that it wasn't taken care of when all of this news broke months ago, it's baffling to be perfectly honest with you," Binder said.
T.K. Waters, the frontrunner in the Jacksonville sheriff’s special election, registered to vote in a Nocatee precinct even though his campaign admits he doesn’t live there — raising questions about whether he committed voter fraud.
“T.K. and his family live on Jacksonville’s Northside and are building a home on the Southside,” said Alex Pantinakis, a political consultant working on Waters’ campaign. “Law enforcement officers’ exact addresses are protected by state statute.”
While the specific address where Waters registered to vote is not a public record, Waters registered in the same precinct as his wife. She registered at a Nocatee home owned by a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sergeant.
The home sits next to the Duval County border with St. Johns County in Precinct 1102. It’s as far from Jacksonville’s Northside as possible within the county, and voting in Precinct 1102 would mean Waters and his wife were voting in different congressional, legislative and local elections than they would be qualified to vote for on the Northside.
Registering to vote somewhere other than your residential address is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Tributary has requested an interview with Waters multiple times through his campaign. The Tributary also left a voicemail on Waters’ cell phone Thursday morning, but he has not yet responded. His campaign won’t say where exactly Waters claims to live. The campaign didn’t answer any more questions after the Tributary pointed out he wasn’t registered to vote on the Northside.
“The registration address determines what races the person is eligible to vote in, which is why that address must be where they live,” said Mark Ard, spokesman for the Florida Department of State, in an email. “Various sections of Chapter 104, Florida Statutes, prohibit registering to vote in the wrong place or voting in an election in which a person is ineligible to vote.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has endorsed Waters’ election bid, created a new Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate potential violations like this. Last month, Attorney General Ashley Moody said that “anyone who commits elections fraud will face justice.”
Jacksonville’s special election began because former Sheriff Mike Williams resigned after The Tributary revealed he had moved out of Duval County in violation of city law.
A University of North Florida poll released Wednesday showed Waters, the sole Republican in the race, leading the field of candidates with 41% support, followed by Democrats Lakesha Burton at 39%, Ken Jefferson at 8%, Tony Cummings at 5% and Wayne Clark at 4%. If no one gets a majority of the vote in next Tuesday’s election, the top two candidates will face each other in a November runoff.
Given Sheriff Williams’ high-profile resignation, concerns about Waters’ residency might impact voters more than usual, said Mike Binder, a political scientist and pollster at the University of North Florida.
“This time, this year, this race, that is something,” he said about Waters not living where he is registered to vote and not being willing to share where he lives. “Talk to me in four years everybody will forget about it, but right now? Are you kidding me? … Especially under these circumstances. The reason we’re having this race in the first place is residency.”
Because law enforcement officers get special exemptions from public records laws, it can be difficult to verify that the sheriff and candidates for sheriff actually live in Duval County, as required by the city’s charter.
To qualify as a candidate for sheriff, each candidate must have lived in Duval County for 183 consecutive days.
The Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office said it couldn’t confirm if Waters has yet voted in this election, only that he was registered in the same precinct as his wife. The office’s data showed that Waters’ wife has already voted in the August election using the Aspen Leaf Drive home as her alleged residence, even though that home is empty. Voting in the wrong precinct is also a crime.
The home where the Waters claimed to live is listed for sale for $749,900, and it had an open house on Friday and Saturday. A tour of the home revealed that it has no food, no clothes and no toothbrushes. The washing machine and dryer have been removed. The closets and bathroom drawers are empty.
The living room holds a fake TV with a static display showing a fake college football game. The teams have the colors of the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers, but the fake scoreboard shows the Nevada Wolf Pack losing to the Wyoming Cowboys.
“Assuming T.K. Waters advances, and there is a November runoff, this is a legitimate issue for a law enforcement officer,” Binder said. “As we’ve been told by our governor, voting violations are a real concern, and that seems problematic legally, ethically. I think that is probably going to be an issue in this race.”
A spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office has not yet returned a request for comment.