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Mail voter registration drive causes confusion with voters

CLEARWATER — Jacqueline Paulausky has been a registered voter in Florida since she moved to the state in 1981.

So when she received a voter registration form in the mail recently, the 72-year-old Democrat was suspicious. The document, which looked official, asked her to affirm that she was a U.S. citizen and that she hadn't committed a felony.

None of her neighbors got one. Nor did her husband. She had eight days to turn in the papers to the state's Division of Elections, the instructions told her.

"I thought I was being picked out of a group," Paulausky said.

She was.

Just not in the way she feared.

Similar forms were sent to more than 420,000 people in Florida this month. But the sender was the Voter Participation Center, a Washington group that's trying to increase — not decrease — voting among women and minorities.

"Really?" Paulausky said. "Maybe they should have been more clear."

Paulausky actually received the letter in error. It was addressed to Jacqueline "Walker," her name from a prior marriage that ended in 2005.

Page Gardner, the president of Women's Voices, Women Vote — the group that runs the Voter Participation Center — said the voter registration data the group purchased didn't pick up the name change.

"Clearly, it's not in our interest to send a form to someone who doesn't need it," Gardner said. "But when you're mailing as much as we mail, your list is not 100 percent. Nothing in this world is perfect."

The mailings have caused confusion elsewhere, said Nancy Whitlock, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. Recipients are asked to fill out the registration forms and send them to the Florida Division of Elections. Yet some who have received the forms and are already registered have wondered about their status, she said.

The state already is dealing with confusion and consternation over its effort to purge non-U.S. citizens from Florida voting rolls, as well as the implementation of controversial new voting laws.

Founded in 2004, the Voter Participation Center tries to increase the voting participation of single women, which at 55 million represents the single biggest bloc of potential voters. The center has since expanded its mission to include minorities and people between the ages of 18 and 29. Gardner said 40 percent of the people the group targets are not registered to vote.

"It's a crisis in our democracy that so many aren't registered," Gardner said.

The center mails forms only to people who appear on multiple residential databases that aren't on a state's list of registered voters at their current addresses, Gardner said.

Another mailer sent reached Brett Geer in Tampa. It was addressed to his former wife, whom he divorced in 2001 in Pinellas County. She's never lived at his Tampa address.

Because of how official the form looks, Geer directed his ire at the man who oversees the state's Division of Elections, Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

"It is disconcerting not to have the faintest idea how my former spouse's name came to be associated by anyone, anyhow, with my address," Geer wrote Detzner in an email.

Although nonpartisan, the Voter Participation Center aims to register voters who lean to the left. John Podesta, who was former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and co-chaired President Barack Obama's transition team, sits on the center's board of directors.

Gardner said the center worked with Florida's Division of Elections to make sure the mailer complied with state law. In Wisconsin, another state with a conservative governor, the center's registration form was flagged earlier this year. Wisconsin officials said that some of the women who received the application forms were too young to register to vote.

Gardner said Florida officials haven't raised any objections. Officials with the Division of Elections didn't respond for comment.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com

Mail voter registration drive causes confusion with voters 06/20/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 10:37pm]
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