FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — President Donald Trump is planning to cast his ballot in person for the first time in Palm Beach County this weekend.
But some have questioned whether he can legally vote as a Florida man because his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach is taxed as a private club and not as a residential property. Jim Watson, a Boynton Beach resident, filed an elections fraud complaint in June challenging Trump's ability to vote in Florida, The Washington Post reported.
Trump intends to cast his ballot Saturday at one of Palm Beach County's 18 early-voting sites, White House officials said. In the two primary elections earlier this year, he voted by mail.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link says Mar-a-Lago's zoning status is irrelevant in whether he can register to vote using that address.
"Whether a person considers that location his or her home is what matters," Link said. "For voting purposes, a voter can claim a park bench as their residence, if that is where they spend their time."
Palm Beach County has other registered voters on the rolls who have listed warehouses and hotels as their place of residence, she said.
Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, agreed with Link's interpretation.
"The Florida Election Code does not define the term legal residence," he said. "As such, it is up to the SOE (supervisor of election) to determine where a person lives."
State guidance on the issue notes that legal residency is not defined in Florida law, but the courts and the state's division of elections have "construed legal residency to be where a person mentally intends to make his or her permanent residence."
Evidence of that intent can come from obtaining a Florida driver's license, paying tax receipts, paying utility bills for the residency, claiming a homestead property tax exemption, receiving mail at the address, declaring a county as domicile and "doing other activities indicative or normally associated with home life," according to the guidelines from the Florida Department of State.
"A business address is not typically a satisfactory legal residential address but if the person resides there despite the zoning ordinance, the address could become the person's legal residential address," the guidelines read.
In September 2019, Trump filed a "declaration of domicile" with the Palm Beach County clerk and comptroller declaring himself to be a "bona fide resident" of Florida at Mar-a-Lago — 1100 S. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach. He listed the White House and his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, as other "places of abode."
In the early 1990s, Trump converted Mar-a-Lago from a private residence into a social club, signing a detailed "use agreement" for the property and conveying ownership to a corporate entity he controlled named Mar-a-Lago Club Inc.
The 1993 agreement stipulates that club members could use guest suites for no longer than seven days at a time for three nonconsecutive weeks per year. Trump's lawyer said during a council meeting at the time that Trump would not live there, "except that he will be a member of the Club and would be entitled to use its guest rooms," according to a transcript obtained by the Post.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of State did not respond to an inquiry Friday about the status of the election fraud complaint filed against Trump.
Since his inauguration, Trump has spent 133 days at his Mar-a-Lago property, according to a tally by NBC News.
Four years ago, Trump voted at Manhattan's Public School 59 on Election Day, just a few blocks from Trump Tower, his previous primary residence.
Link said she has been working with the White House and Secret Service ahead of Trump's visit to Palm Beach.
"Every single voter here is important to us," she said. "Everybody has got to be treated with respect."
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com(c)2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.