Donald Trump’s new presidential campaign chief is registered to vote in a key swing state at an empty house where he does not live, in an apparent breach of election laws.
Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s election campaign, has an active voter registration at the house in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which is vacant and due to be demolished to make way for a new development.
“I have emptied the property,” Luis Guevara, the owner of the house, which is in the Coconut Grove section of the city, said in an interview. “Nobody lives there … we are going to make a construction there.” Neighbors said the property had been abandoned for several months.
Bannon, 62, formerly rented the house for use by his ex-wife, Diane Clohesy, but did not live there himself. Clohesy, a Tea Party activist, moved out of the house earlier this year and has her own irregular voting registration arrangement. According to public records, Bannon and Clohesy divorced seven years ago.
Bannon previously rented another house for Clohesy in Miami from 2013 to 2015 and assigned his voter registration to the property during that period. But a source with direct knowledge of the rental agreement for this house said Bannon did not live there either, and that Bannon and Clohesy were not in a relationship.
Bannon, Clohesy and Trump’s campaign repeatedly declined to answer detailed questions about Bannon’s voting arrangements. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, eventually said in an email: “Mr Bannon moved to another location in Florida.” Miller declined to answer further questions.
Bannon is executive chairman of the rightwing website Breitbart News, which has for years aggressively claimed that voter fraud is rife among minorities and in Democratic-leaning areas. The allegation has been repeated forcefully on the campaign trail by Trump, who has predicted the election will be “rigged” and warned supporters that victory could be fraudulently “taken away from us”.
But it is not clear that Bannon is actually entitled to vote in Florida, one of the most important prizes for Trump and Hillary Clinton in their quest for the 270 electoral votes they need to secure the White House in November’s general election.
Details of the apparent breach of election laws by Trump’s campaign chief came as it was revealed that Bannon was once charged with misdemeanor domestic violence after a violent argument with his first wife. Court documents first obtained by Politico describe how, in 1996, his wife was left with red marks on her neck and wrist after the New Year’s Day argument at their home in Santa Monica, California, which began when she woke early to feed their twin daughters and he “got upset at her for making noise”.
The case was closed after Bannon’s ex-wife failed to appear in court to testify to the accusations. Five months later, she filed to dissolve their marriage. In a police report of the 1996 altercation, she described three or four previous arguments that “became physical”.
Bannon, who only recently came into the Trump camp in a move to reset the ailing campaign, is now under fresh scrutiny over his right to vote.
Under Florida law, voters must be legal residents of the state and of the county where they register to vote. Guidelines from the Florida department of state say that Florida courts and state authorities have defined legal residency as the place “where a person mentally intends to make his or her permanent residence”.
Wilfully submitting false information on a Florida voter registration – or helping someone to do so – is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Election officials in Miami-Dade make clear to prospective voters that they are required to actually live in the county and to use their home address in election paperwork. “You must reside in Miami-Dade County,” their website states. It adds: “When you register to vote, an actual residence address is required by law.” A county spokeswoman did not respond to questions relating to Bannon’s situation.
Three neighbors said the house where Bannon is currently registered to vote had been abandoned for three months. When the Guardian visited the property on Thursday a large window in the front aspect was missing. A soiled curtain was blowing through it. The driveway was a mess of tree branches and mud.
Bannon never appeared at the house, according to the neighbors. One of them, Joseph Plummer Jr, who lives next door, said Clohesy lived at the house until earlier this year and that a man of Latino appearance in his 20s was the only male ever seen there. Asked whether a man of Bannon’s description stayed at the house, Plummer said: “No, that was not that individual, not at all.”
The same arrangement was in place at the previous house in Miami. The $5,500 per month rent was paid via Bannon’s accountants in Beverly Hills, but “he was never there,” according to someone with direct involvement in the rental arrangement, who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions from Bannon. “In my opinion, he was not living there,” said the source. “He maybe came around twice a year for a couple of days at best, but he did not live there.” The source’s account was supported by another neighbor, who declined to be quoted for publication.
Bannon owns no property in his name in Miami-Dade, according to records held by the office of the county property appraiser. As recently as last week he was reported to be a resident of Laguna Beach in Orange County, California, where, according to public records, he owns a house.
From October last year until he joined the Trump campaign this month, Bannon was the lead presenter on the Breitbart News Daily talkshow, which airs seven mornings a week on SiriusXM. A Sirius spokeswoman said Bannon hosted the show live from Washington DC or New York.
Records from the Orange County registrar of voters state that Bannon was registered to vote there from the 1980s until 2014, when he cancelled his registration and began registering in Miami. He had voted in most general elections by mail in California but, according to records, did not vote in the 2012 presidential primary, when eventual nominee Mitt Romney beat candidates including Newt Gingrich, Bannon’s fellow rightwinger and Trump ally.
Bannon also co-owns a condominium in Los Angeles and is known to stay at the so-called “Breitbart embassy”, a luxurious $2.4m townhouse beside the supreme court in Washington DC, where his website’s staff work from basement offices. A Bloomberg profile of Bannon published last October, with which he cooperated, stated that Bannon “occupies” the townhouse and described it as being “his”.
But according to records at the DC office of tax and revenue, the Breitbart house is actually owned by Mostafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former member of parliament. Gindy has received favorable coverage from Breitbart News, which styles him as a “senior statesman”, without an accompanying disclosure that he is the website’s landlord.
Neither Bannon or Clohesy, his ex-wife, responded to requests for comment for this article.
Acquiring Florida residency is often attractive to outsiders to the state due to Florida’s lack of state income tax. This allows people with a residency to legally avoid paying state income tax on so-called “unearned” income, such as dividends, interests and retirement benefits. Attorneys often advise people seeking Florida residency that it helps to assign their voter registration to a property in the state.
Clohesy, who has worked on conservative films produced by Bannon since their divorce, also has a voting arrangement that appears to contravene Florida regulations. Rather than register to vote from her rented homes in Miami, she was and continues to be registered to vote in neighboring Broward County from a mailbox at a shipping facility in the city of Pompano Beach.
The use of such mailbox addresses is not allowed by Broward County, which requires that residents use their home address. “You have to give the address where you live, so you can’t use a PO box,” said Tonya Edwards, a spokeswoman for the county supervisor of elections.
Clohesy appears in the county election register as living at 102 Governmental Center, which is actually the address of the elections supervisor’s office. Edwards, the spokeswoman for the office, told the Guardian this designation was intended for homeless people.