FBI to investigate fake letters sent to Manatee voters, officials say

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 25, 2012 

MANATEE -- The Tampa FBI Field Office will investigate reports of fraudulent letters sent to Tampa Bay area voters questioning their eligibility, a news release said Wednesday.

Steven E. Ibison, special agent in charge of the office, authorized the probe after voters in Manatee and Sarasota, as well as in counties across the state, complained they had received fake letters saying that their eligibility as a registered voter was in question, it said.

The FBI recommended that anyone who receives such a letter should immediately contact their local supervisor of elections office.

If the letter is determined to be a hoax, the individual should keep it and call the nearest FBI office, which in our area is in Tampa at 1-866-838-1153, the release said.

Meanwhile, local elections officials have not established whether any particular group of voters were targeted with fake letters questioning their eligibility, they said Wednesday.

Asked if he had any theories about who the fake letters were being sent to, Manatee Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat said, "I really don't."

He has been checking whether voters of a certain political party received fraudulent letters, many of which bear postmarks from Washington state, but he said he does not have enough data to make a conclusion.

The office of Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent Wednesday reported similar results, saying no pattern has emerged.

Statewide, a significant majority of the letters were sent to Republicans, but some Democrats received them as well, said Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida Department of State, which is investigating the matter along with law enforcement agencies.

Late Wednesday, Cate said more counties had reported that voters had received fake missives; it brought the total number of counties affected to 28 statewide.

They include Bay, Brevard, Broward, Collier, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, Indian River, Jackson, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Seminole, Sumter

and Volusia, Cate said.

Beginning earlier this week, elections officials said got complaints from local voters who had received official-looking, but fake, letters questioning their eligibility.

The letters said the local supervisor of elections had received information regarding the voter's citizenship status, "bringing into question your eligibility as a registered voter."

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

Anyone receiving such a letter should call Sweat's office at 941-741-3823, or Florida's voter fraud hotline at 1-877-868-3737.

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

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