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.

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.

While Waters did not respond to The Tributary, he did share a statement with other reporters. In a text message to News4Jax, he said, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

Waters last changed his registration in 2018 when he moved out of his old house.

Registering to vote somewhere other than your residential address is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The State Attorney’s Office said that there “is a reasonable basis to support that Waters was not required to change his address with the Supervisor of Elections,” because Waters has been renting homes for the last four years.

“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,” the office said in a statement. The office said that even though he is not registered at the home he previously owned but at a different Nocatee house.

Waters’ wife also works at the State Attorney’s Office as an investigator.

“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,” the office’s statement continued. “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.”

The Florida Department of State says that you must register with your “permanent address.”

“Legal residence is a convergence of intent and fact,” the department’s reference guide says. Paying bills, receiving mail and “doing other activities indicative or normally associated with home life” would indicate an address is someone’s legal residence. The guide doesn’t say renters are not required to update their voter registration. In Duval County, 43 percent of housing units are occupied by renters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“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.”

Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville...