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LAKE CITY, Fla. (WCJB) – A scandal in the Columbia County Republican Party has drawn criticism from the organization’s chairman, Hunter Peeler. District candidates for the party say documents they submitted to the election official were altered without their knowledge.

TV20 has received the sworn candidate documents for the members and members of the constituency committee, which were supplemented with the word “deputy” after notarization and filing.

Tomi S. Brown, director of the Columbia County Board of Elections, said Peeler, chairman of the Columbia County Republican Party executive committee and a school board member, went to the office and asked for some candidates to be nominated as replacements.

Peeler told the election office staff that, as chairman, he had the authority to make the appointment. He then marked the forms of six candidates with the word “alternate.”

“Some time later, I was contacted by members of the local Republican Party complaining about the process,” Brown said. “We contacted legal counsel and informed the chairman of our findings that he did not have the authority to alter the records.”

Added word "change" highlighted in Tony Buzzella’s Candidate Oath for Precinct Committee Members…
The word “alternative” was emphasized in Tony Buzzella’s document “Candidate Oath for District Committeemen and Committeewomen.”(Columbia County Elections Office Manager)

Tony Buzzella, one of the district candidates, confirmed that his candidate oath was changed after it was taken and without his knowledge while he was out of the country on vacation.

The obvious aim of the changes was to exclude certain candidates from the election.

“So we ignored the markings on the forms and qualified the candidates. It doesn’t disqualify anyone from a race,” Brown continued.

TV20 has reached out to Peeler for comment but has not yet received a response.

“We take qualifications very seriously,” Brown said. “We don’t want to make mistakes and we don’t want anyone to think that our elections are not being conducted according to the law. In this case, because it was a party office, we relied on the local party chairman, even though we should have verified the things he told us before we acted.”

“This was a mistake on our part and we admit we made that mistake. But it is a mistake that we quickly corrected so that no one lost their chance to serve on the constituency committee. I am proud of my staff who acted quickly to ensure that this mistake was corrected.”

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