Manatee elections chief says letter questioning voting status is fake

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 as voters, elections officials said Tuesday.

The Florida Department of State reported that officials in 23 counties had complained about such letters, but that number did not yet include Manatee and Sarasota counties, 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. “We’re working with state supervisors of elections, as well as the (Florida) Department of Law Enforcement 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 seem real, with an official-looking letterhead but they are all fake, she said.

Both Sweat and Dent sent copies of the letters to the Bradenton Herald that voters had brought in.

The letters 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 fake 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 has received reports of two letters, but has not yet seen them, according to Jo Ann Beaumont. A note posted on the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections website said that four voters had reported such letters.