Pinellas, Pasco elections supervisors say group's registration mailer confuses voters
Elections supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco counties are calling out a Washington, D.C. nonprofit group whose past campaigns to register voters have drawn complaints from elections officials who say the mailings are confusing.
Pinellas Supervisor Deborah Clark and Pasco Supervisor Brian Corley sent out news releases this week to alert voters to a new mailing from the Voter Participation Center that indicates a voter is not registered to vote or has not updated their voter registration information.
“The irresponsible actions of the Voter Participation Center have once again caused unnecessary confusion for Pinellas County voters,” Clark said in her Friday release. “The VPC continues to use outdated and inaccurate information to create campaigns that mislead our voters and erode their confidence in the election process.”
Clark spokesman Jason Latimer said the office has received seven calls this week, including one from a voter whose mother received a voting application. The mother, though, has been dead for 20 years. Another voter received a mailer but had already provided the elections office with updated address information.
"The majority of the phone calls we are receiving are from already registered voters who are questioning what has happened to their voter registration, or they are questioning why they have received pre-filled applications in the names of their adult children, underage children, and recently, a deceased child," said Supervisor Corley. "This is very confusing to them, and rightly so. It is creating suspicion, mistrust, and increased anger about how public and readily available their private information is."
Founded in 2004, the VPC tries to increase voting among single women by making it easier for them to register to vote. The nonpartisan group also seeks to increase participation among minorities and people between the ages of 18 and 29. Its mailers include self-addressed envelopes to the Division of Elections.
The VPC launched voter registration campaigns in 2008 and 2012 using erroneous consumer data lists, Clark said. In 2014, she said, the group's campaign focused on vote-by-mail ballot requests which created confusion for voters who had already requested and returned their voted ballots.
In June 2012, a state Division of Elections spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times that they agency had received more than 8,000 voter registration applications from the center, but a "high volume" of those applications noted they had been sent to deceased family members. Others were for people who had never lived in Florida, and some were for noncitizens, minors and "even animals." As a result, voter assistance hotline calls have increased from "concerned and confused citizens sharing their frustration over the organization sending these applications."
Page Gardner, the center's president, acknowledged at the time that the databases used to identify potential voters aren't perfect but the center was working with the state to improve them.
In a reponse to Bay Buzz Friday, she released the following statement:
“No state makes available a list of individuals who are unregistered or ineligible. As a result, the Voter Participation Center (VPC) and other civic organizations must use commercially available residential databases and match them to state voter files. Some errors are inevitable, but our complaint rate is considerably less than 1 percent.
The VPC takes its mailing-list process seriously, using the best technology available to ensure that mail recipients are both eligible to vote and unregistered at their current address. Misdirected mail wastes money and does not advance VPC’s goal of maximizing civic participation in this country.
Importantly, all our voter-registration forms carefully explain in multiple locations that only eligible voters should apply. Our forms specify: "Even though you have received this mailing, it is your responsibility to determine whether you are eligible to register,” and we provide a website address and phone numbers to help mail recipients instantly check their registration status.
Our forms also clearly state: “If you are not a U.S. citizen, you cannot register to vote” and: “If you wish to be removed from our mailing list, email this code: XXXXXX to firstname.lastname@example.org."
For more infomration on the center or to remove your name from the group's list, go to www.voterparticipation.org or call (202) 659-9570.