Aggressive Tactics, Ballot Harvesting, and Bribery Amongst Accusations
By Sean D. Hartman
Being “The Cape Coral Watchdog,” I am usually only focused on Cape Coral politics. However, multiple sources have now come to me directly concerning serious allegations of both ballot harvesting and bribery from Fort Myers City Councilwoman Terolyn Watson.
This story has previously been covered by local news networks, though no source at the time was willing to come forward publicly. This was also the case in my initial investigation, where five sources refused to go on record, and one backed out a week ago.
The story was essentially dead until an anonymous source sent The Cape Coral Watchdog a video of an elderly woman alleging that Councilwoman Terolyn Watson took her ballot with her consent. The video can be found here.
Since then, four other sources came forward anonymously detailing different altercations with the Fort Myers Councilwoman.
One individual explained that his 80-year-old grandmother saw Councilwoman Watson on the street campaigning, and told her she was supporting her opponent, Chantel Rhoades. Councilwoman Watson had asked to put a sign up on her property, but his grandmother said no. Later, when the grandson came to check on the grandmother, the sign was on her property without permission.
“She saw Ms. Watson across the street,” said the grandson of his grandmother. “She didn’t recognize her; she didn’t know who she was. She just thought she was speaking to one her of neighbors across the street.”
“Ms. Watson came over and started to introduce herself,” the grandson continued. “My grandmother stated to her ‘Well, I’m voting for Chantel.’ And she [Terolyn] insisted that was okay. She insisted on putting her sign in the yard and my grandmother told her that she was voting for Chantel and wanted to make that clear.”
The most damning allegation was a Fort Myers resident who alleges that Councilwoman Watson bribed her with $20 and clothes for her children for school in exchange for her vote. The resident explained she did the ballot in front of Councilwoman Watson the Monday before Primary Election Day, at which point Councilwoman Watson took the ballot.
“It was a group of us,” she said. “She paid us $20 and said she’d buy our children school clothes if we voted for her. She watched us fill out her name and she took it and turned it in herself.”
Another resident said that Councilwoman Watson took her mother’s ballot saying that she was being “pushy,” with a third resident also witnessed bribery, saying that Councilwoman Watson was “promising this and promising that, that Terolyn lady. You don’t do no [expletive] like that.”
It may come to a surprise, especially after recent electoral reforms, but ballot harvesting in itself is not illegal, even for a candidate, though there are limits to how many ballots someone can have on their person at one time. However, bribery for votes IS illegal. It is also crucial to note that, outside of witness testimony, there is no evidence of illegal activity from Terolyn Watson that has been uncovered as of this writing.
A request for comment was made to the Terolyn Watson campaign, but received no response.