Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bogus letters target Florida Republican voters

TALLAHASSEE —The Florida Division of Elections and state law enforcement officials are investigating reports from at least 24 counties — including Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas — that eligible voters have received bogus letters saying they have been flagged as suspected noncitizen voters.

The letters are written to make it look like they came from the recipient's local supervisor of elections office. The envelopes carry a similar notation. But they are not official letters and supervisors are alerting residents of the hoax.

Seemingly aimed at politically active Republicans, it's the latest case involving voter fraud to emerge in Florida and it comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

"It makes me angry," said Jeff Guerra, a 43-year-old sales representative from New Port Richey who received a letter Tuesday. "I want this to be an honest election. Something like this is obviously a scam, I'm really taken aback."

Officials know of "dozens" of fraudulent letters, but that number could climb in the next few days, said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner. The case has been referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.

"We don't know the intention of the letters," Cate said. "They certainly have the possibility of intimidating voters. … We're going to make sure the people who did this are brought to justice."

The case could be interpreted as voter intimidation, Cate said, which is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail.

Finding out more about those behind the mailing might be difficult, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the FDLE, which launched a criminal investigation into the case Tuesday. Two weeks ago, the agency launched another criminal investigation into a case involving fraudulent voter registration applications filed by a private vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida.

"We'll be reaching out to other states and contacting the letter recipients for the purpose of identifying commonalities," Plessinger said.

The letters arrived in envelopes with a Seattle, Wash., postmark and a date of Oct. 17. They all have the same type of letterhead, with the American flag as a backdrop to a silhouette of a bald eagle in the upper left corner. The sender swapped out the name of the supervisor of elections depending on which county they were received.

"I've never seen anybody go this far in trying to fake something from this office," said Linda Tanko, a senior elections supervisor in Orange County. "It's mean-spirited and it's causing confusion at a critical point in the election."

The recipients are similar — most are Republican, vote frequently and contribute to campaigns. Jacksonville City Council President Bill Bishop and former U.S. Ambassador John Rood each got one.

Republican Charles Callaghan of Ponte Vedra opened his letter Saturday.

"I sat there and actually had to read it a couple times because I didn't understand what it said at first," Callaghan recounted. It claimed to be from the St. Johns County elections supervisor, informing him that he may be ineligible to vote and "registering to vote under fraudulent conditions or swearing a false oath are both third-degree felonies in Florida."

Ion Sancho, Leon County's supervisor of elections, told CNN, "I suspect that whoever is sending out these letters has purchased some kind of a donor or campaign list that's given him a group of high-profile Republicans."

The letters inform recipients they have 15 days to fill out a voter eligibility form and return it to the county elections office. If they don't, they'll be removed from the voter rolls, the letter warns.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, blames Gov. Rick Scott's push to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls.

"The state has created a lot of confusion about citizenship and eligibility," Simon said. "No one can be reasonably surprised that people have stepped in to take advantage of the confusion."

Guerra, who said he never misses a vote and contributed $100 to John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, recently re-registered to vote and called Pasco County's Supervisor of Elections Office on Tuesday after he got his letter. They put out an alert.

By then 23 other counties had reported complaints. Brevard County on Friday was the first to contact the Division of Elections. On Monday, the state alerted all 67 counties after getting more complaints.

A coalition of voting rights advocates said they are concerned.

"Anyone responsible for this blatant attempt to tamper with the votes of Florida citizens and threaten to thwart their right to vote just days before Election Day ought to be brought to justice," said Gihan Perera, Florida New Majority's executive director.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com.

See the letters

See an example of the letter and the mailing envelope at links.tampabay.com.

Bogus letters target Florida Republican voters 10/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 11:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.