The free and persistent flow of bogus letters aimed at tricking or intimidating black and other Florida minority voters from showing up at the polls in the upcoming presidential election has become so rampant that a copy of one of the writings even made its way into the hands of the Republican Party chairman.
The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are both now vigorously investigating all the fraudulent mailings, which to date have spread to as many as 28 state counties and an untold number of likely legally eligible voters. The letter purports to be from the county supervisors of elections, but postmarks have detected the vast majority of them were shipped from as far away as Seattle. Each of them raises issues ranging from questioning the voting eligibility or even citizenship of its targets.
“This is a major concern,” said Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel, who examined one of the letters after being contacted by an alarmed and frightened voter who’d been targeted. Ertel noted the letter, which was machine postmarked, bore no return mailing address. “You should not expect a letter from your elections office saying ‘You’re not registered to vote, please don’t go to the polls.’ That’s ridiculous.”’
“A non-registered voter who casts a vote in the state of Florida may be subject to arrest, imprisonment and/or criminal sanctions,” the letters cryptically warn, adding that voters had only 15 days to fill out the properly enclosed Voter Eligibility Form and return it in a provided envelope. “Failure to do so will result in the removal of your name from the voter registration rolls and you will no longer be eligible to vote,” it likewise asserted.
David Couvertier, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Tampa bureau, said his office decided to launch a formal investigation after receiving countless complaints from many citizens, some of whom were targeted despite having lengthy histories of being staunch and unflappable voters.
”We’re taking it as a serious situation,” said Couvertier. “We’re looking at everything from civil rights violations to election fraud to everything in between.”
Tampa bureau Chief Steven Ibison added the agency will now focus on retracing the specific origin of the letters as well as interviewing as many of those as possible that were mailed. Anyone who receives one of the notices is advised to first contact a local election supervisor to verify their eligibility standing, then FBI officials, if the issue is not satisfactorily.
“We have provided all of the information we have received to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” said Chris Cate, Communications director for the Florida Department of State. “We have no tolerance for voter fraud or intimidation, and any attempts at fraud or intimidation will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. We believe these letters meet the standard of intimidation.”
So despicable and random have the mailings become that even Republican Party state chairman Lenny Curry, himself a threatened recipient of one of them, has been moved to speak out.
“This type of activity is not only disgusting, it is criminal and must be prosecuted,” he said. “I call on Florida Democrats to join me in condemning this false letter writing campaign that appears to target likely Florida voters and help get the word out about this false campaign.”
Over the weekend, the Rev. Al Sharpton jetted to town to lend his voice to the cause as well as strive to stem the whole Republican movement to suppress the vote.
Largely under Sharpton’s direction, thousands of black, Caribbean and Hispanic state voters headed to the polls as part of the Souls to the Polls Weekend and to mark the official start of state early voting. Joined by the likes of Bishop Victor T. Curry, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, State Rep. Dwight Bullard and Florida Memorial University President Dr. Henry Lewis, the Operation Lemonade campaign swept through the state.
“We have been handed lemons through a reduced early voting period,” said Bishop Curry. “Our community will make Lemonade out of this tactic to deter voters by mobilizing and voting early.”
In times past, state voters had more than twice the amount of time to cast early votes, travel in mass to the polls and partake in various other voting options as they now do. From state to state, Republican driven legislators have enacted various laws constituted on the express purpose of denying President Barack Obama the same sort of momentum that propelled him to office in 2008.
Unfazed, organizers intimated they plan to target minority, women and young adult voters as enthusiastically as ever before. While many admit all the new legislation and toughened requirements has resulted in them having to work three times as hard over the last two months in registering new voters as they did in 2008, they are confident they can match and perhaps even surpass the record voting numbers of four years ago.
“They may cut the time, but they can’t cut the line,” Sharpton told an overflow crowd of supportive voters during one rally. “You thought you shut us down, you just woke us up. We are not to be denied our right to vote…this election is not just about Obama, it’s about yo’ mama.”
Early voting in Florida goes from Oct. 27 through Nov.3, and Election Day is Tuesday Nov. 6.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.