Lee County Commissioner candidate Matthew Thornton says he was election fraud victim

Writer: adam.regan
Published: Updated:

Matthew Thornton signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, on the lower-right corner of the nation’s founding document.

Now, almost 250 years later, the signature of Thornton’s great-great-great-great-great grandson of the same name has come under scrutiny as he runs for Lee County commissioner.

Thornton, 62 and a Fort Myers Beach resident, said a 2020 signature on a voter form with his name on it was forged.

“Yeah, I’m a victim of voter fraud,” Thornton said.

Terry Miller, campaign manager of Thornton’s political opponent, learned Thornton was recorded as voting both in California and in Florida in 2020, a federal offense. Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle said Miller reported these findings to him. Miller, owner of TM Strategic Consulting, works for Doyle and David Mulicka as their campaign managers.

Thornton and Mulicka are running against each other as Republicans for Lee County Commissioner’s District 3 seat, one being vacated by incumbent Ray Sandelli, also managed by Miller. Thornton has raised $102,000 so far, campaign finance records show. Mulicka has raised $288,000 so far, records show.

On June 10, Jake Cataldo, secretary of the Conservative Leadership Caucus, applied to be a write-in candidate for the District 3 seat. He has raised $0 so far, records show. The caucus includes Treasurer Judy Persons, the mother-in-law of Mulicka.

Cataldo’s name will not be on the ballot and must be written onto it for him to get votes. By entering the race, Cataldo prevented Democrats and Independents from voting in this year’s District 3 election unless they register as Republicans before July 22.

“I filed to run in District 3 when I realized we were destined to have an open primary,” Cataldo wrote in an email. “As this is a Republican primary, I do not believe Democrats should be (participating in) picking Republican candidates. As president of the South Fort Myers Republican Club, I saw it as my duty to ensure we protect the integrity of our party’s primary process.

“The failure of the Democratic Party to recruit a candidate in this race is not a Republican problem, nor my problem. For reference, Democrats placed write-ins in both Commissioner Hamman’s and Pendergrass’s races last cycle. My goal is to allow Republicans to decide who wins a Republican primary as it is vital that our party members determine the right candidate to represent our party. I will not be participating in any interviews.”

On the same day Cataldo filed, records from Contra Costa County in California show Josh Cooper of JTKE Strategic Research & Communications of Tallahassee, which does political opposition research, requested Thornton’s voting records there. Cooper did not return a call or an email seeking comment. Miller said he did not hire Cooper but that he knew another political operator who did, which was how he got the information. Miller declined to name that person.

Thornton’s voting log, obtained so far only by Cooper, NBC-2 reporter David Elias and Gulfshore Business, according to Contra Costa County, shows Thornton voted in the 2020 election in California.

Thornton said he could not have voted in California in 2020 because by then, he had moved and voted for Donald Trump in Escambia County instead, which matches that county’s voter registration log.

“On Sept. 16, 2020, Hurricane Sally hit,” Thornton said. “I was in Pensacola, cleaning up my house, cleaning up my backyard, cleaning up my neighbors’ yards. The next time I set foot in California, I drove, and it was December 23, 2020. I was there for Christmas, then my wife and I flew out to Washington, D.C., in January.

“The narrative that these people are trying to show, there’s nothing there. The signature does not match. Signature experts have confirmed that it does not match. They don’t understand why the computer system is picking it up. Maybe the slant of the M. Maybe the T. Maybe it picked up something else. I have no idea. I don’t think anybody is investigating anything on this.

The only people I know who have done anything on this are myself and my team. If this signature were any worse, it would be a child’s.”

Helen Nolan, assistant registrar of Contra Costa County, disagreed with Thornton and the handwriting experts’ assessments. She said she considered the 2020 Thornton signature as authentic, not forged. President Joe Biden defeated Trump with 76% of the vote in Contra Costa County, records show.

“We have reviewed all of our signatures,” Nolan said. “We believe that they’re consistent. We’re not going to change our opinion on something from four years ago. The election’s over and done with. The results have been certified. Unless the court tells us to change something, we’re not legally able to change anything unless it’s by a court order.”

Nolan declined to say Thornton was lying. She said only a court order could change her opinion on the 2020 signature’s authenticity.

“I still stand by our decision,” Nolan said in a phone interview from California. “I still stand by our staff and processes. We can’t change the result of the past election without a court order.”

Roy Fenoff, a certified handwriting and forensic document examiner based in East Lansing, Michigan, reviewed three signatures: Thornton’s 2012 voter form, a 2024 signature Thornton signed for Gulfshore Business and the 2020 voter form in question.

Fenoff was not told in advance that the 2020 form was in question. He questioned it himself.

“When you look at the 2012 and the 2024 signatures, what you see that is they don’t vary that much,” Fenoff said. “Over that 12-year period, the signatures remain relatively consistent.”

The 2020 signature stood out as different, Fenoff said.

“The 2012 and 2024 signatures appear to have been written quickly, rapidly,” he said. “And with a lot of fluid movement. The strokes are more angular. They leave the baseline and go up. They come back down to the baseline. A lot of the letters, the lines of the letters intersect. Cross over each other.

“But when you look at the 2020, the slant is pulled back a little bit. So it isn’t as far to the right. It’s pulled up. You also will see some angularity to some of the letters. Like the middle initial R. It’s more triangular in form.”

Fenoff and other handwriting experts said they need 15 to 20 signatures from the same timeframe in question to compile an official report. Thornton said he was working on gathering them in case he needs them to prove his innocence.

After Miller reported Thornton’s multiple 2020 voting logs to Doyle, Doyle said he passed the information along to state attorney Amira Fox.

Like Doyle and Mulicka, Fox uses Miller as her campaign manager.

Amira Fox’s office said it passed information along to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and that FDLE forwarded it on to the U.S. Department of Justice.

FDLE and DOJ have yet to respond to public information requests as to the status of their investigation—or if there is an investigation.

To read more at Gulfshore Business, click here.

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