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  1. Florida Politics

Political mailers disclose voting histories, prompting complaints

Fliers mailed by Citizens for a Better Florida list the voting records of the recipient’s neighbors.
Published Nov. 1, 2014

An election flier caught Annie Miller's eye after it found its way to her mailbox Thursday. Addressed to her stepson, Jeremy Matson, who had moved out of state, it bore the bold headline: "Jeremy, why haven't you voted yet?"

Below that was a list of seven of Matson's former neighbors at a St. Petersburg apartment building along with their respective addresses. And next to each name was a notation of whether they had voted in the elections of 2010 and 2012.

"Every year thousands of your neighbors fail to vote," it read. "We think it's too important. This year, we are providing the names of your neighbors and their voting record. The next time we send this mailer, we will include information on who voted in this upcoming November election."

Miller found the tone threatening, and the information a little too personal.

"It just sounds so fascist," she said. "I just have always thought (voting) should be more of a private thing. You don't know who's looking at this stuff."

Supervisors of elections in at least two Tampa Bay area counties have fielded complaints about similar fliers in recent days. But since the information is a public record, there is nothing local election officials can do about it.

More than 100 people complained about the fliers to the office of Pasco Elections Supervisor Brian Corley. The calls included one from a Dade City man angry that his mother with Alzheimer's disease had received the flier. A Wesley Chapel woman complained because her son received the card asking why he hadn't voted in the last election. Just one problem: The boy was only 16 at the time.

"This might be the world's dumbest get-out-the-vote effort,'' Corley said. "All I've heard from is angry individuals.''

Hillsborough County has also received some calls and emails about the fliers, said Hillsborough County elections spokeswoman Gerri Kramer.

"In general, voters don't seem to like this," Kramer said. "We are telling voters they should contact the groups that created the campaigns or their legislators."

The flier Miller received came from Citizens for a Better Florida, a political action committee registered with the state Division of Elections. Records show the group formed in 2008 and has raised more than $2 million, much of which it has used to assist the campaigns of Gov. Rick Scott and other statewide Republican candidates.

The bulk of the group's money was contributed by another PAC known as the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee.

Both groups share the same Orlando address as Florida Realtors. A phone call placed Friday afternoon to the number listed for Citizens for a Better Florida connected to Florida Realtors. A receptionist connected a Tampa Bay Times reporter to a voicemail.

"We understand you may have received a mailer," the voicemail greeting stated. "Please leave a message."

A message left with the group was not returned.

The public is able to access voter information as soon as it is uploaded to the state voter registration system. Information including a voter's name, address and party affiliation is available, along with dates in which a voter cast a ballot. Information about whom a voter casts a ballot for is secret.

"It's tacky and unethical,'' Corley said of the mailers. "But there's nothing illegal about it.''

Times news researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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