Manatee, Sarasota, 23 other counties report fake letters sent to voters, officials say

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 24, 2012 

MANATEE -- Voters in Manatee and Sarasota counties, plus those in at least 23 other counties statewide, have received official-looking but fake letters questioning their eligibility, elections officials said Tuesday.

The Florida Department of State reported that elections officials have complained about such letters, according to Chris Cate, a spokesman for the department.

State elections and law enforcement officials are investigating the source of the letters, Cate said.

"We really want anyone who receives one of these fraudulent letters to let their county supervisor of elections know right now," said Cate late Tuesday.

He said local supervisors

of elections, as well as officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were attempting "to track down the source and make sure whoever it is, is held accountable."

"I've had maybe a half-dozen phone calls, and four brought the letter in to show us," said Manatee Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat.

"It is so far off base, it's not funny."

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent reported a similar problem.

"We just started getting phone calls yesterday from voters who had received this fraudulent letter, supposedly from this office," she said.

The letters seemed real, with an official-looking letterhead, but they were all fake, she said. Both Sweat and Dent sent copies of the letters to the Bradenton Herald that voters had brought in.

They were identical except for the supervisors' names and the name of the county elections office.

The one from Sweat read: "The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections has received information from the Florida Division of Elections regarding your citizenship status, bringing into question your eligibility as a registered voter."

It advised the recipient to fill out an attached "Voter Eligibility Form," or be removed within 15 days from the voter rolls.

Some of the letters bore postmarks from Washington state, both Sweat and Dent said.

"This is propaganda put out by some dissident group that wants to confuse voters, and there's no truth to it," said Sweat.

He advised anyone who might have questions to call his office, 941-741-3823.

The Lee County Supervisor of Elections office received reports of two letters, but had not yet seen them, according to Jo Ann Beaumont. Four voters in Brevard County had reported such letters, said a note on the Brevard Supervisor of Elections' website. Hillsborough County had three instances, said Travis Abercrombie, a spokesman for the supervisor's office.

Voters who have received such letters may also call Florida's voter fraud hotline at 1-877-868-3737, according to a Department of State news release dated Monday.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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