Elections

Voters throughout Florida express outrage over mailer that promises to reveal whether they vote

MANATEE -- Voters from across the state expressed anger and frustration Friday at a promise by Citizens for a Better Florida, a political action committee with ties to Florida and national Realtors, to reveal the names of people who don't vote in next week's elections.

Residents in Manatee County began receiving a mailer from the PAC that advises that the group will reveal whether they vote in Tuesday's election to their neighbors, as well as if their neighbors voted, as first reported by the Bradenton Herald.

The mailer states, "Every year, thousands of your neighbors failed to vote. 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."

Outrage over the tactic poured into the Bradenton Herald on Friday.

"I am livid that this organization thinks this is OK," said Palmetto's Christy Clark. "I understand this is public record, but this reeks of voter intimidation and even coercion."

Based on messages from Herald readers, mailers were also received in Palm Beach, Hernando, Clay, Pasco and Polk counties, as well as in Fort Walton Beach, Bonita Sprints, Edgewater and Tallahassee.

Citizens for a Better Florida shares an Orlando address with Florida Realtors and the Realtors Political Action Committee, which in October alone contributed $795,000 to CBF after receiving an identical amount from the National Association of Realtors in Chicago, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Citizens for a Better Florida has spent money on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican candidates in Florida, but there was nothing in Florida Division of Elections filings to suggest the group was trying to help candidates specifically in Manatee County. While there is no clear indication that the mailer is targeting voters from one party over the other, the majority of the complaints and comments from those receiving the mailer have been from Republicans, including Clark.

"If my party thinks this type of tactic is acceptable, then maybe it's time for me to find another party," she said.

Clark's anger over the sense of an invasion of privacy is not restricted to Manatee County.

Keene Johnson, from Tallahassee, also called the tactic an invasion of privacy.

"It kind of upset me," said Johnson. "Whether it's legal or not, no one should have the right to list my name and put it out there like that. It's none of my neighbors' business if I choose not to vote and that's my choice."

Johnson said he does vote, but it's irrelevant.

"I'm very proud of where I'm from and proud of my liberties, but at the same time, if they are trying to embarrass me into voting, forget that," he said. "I'm 51 years old and you can't bully me."

Several other responses from voters indicate that the mailer was flawed in its research. At least three voters said the mailer listed them as not voting in one of the prior general elections. The voters said they did vote but had recently moved to a new address, indicating Citizens for a Better Florida used addresses to determine voting records, but incorrectly assumed the voting records of current residents.

Repeated attempts to contact Citizens for a Better Florida were unsuccessful and the voice mail stating, "We understand you may have received a mailer, please leave a message," remains unchanged.

There is a general consensus that the tactic is legal, because whether a person votes or not is public record.

But if it is determined to be a form of voter intimidation, then it violates Florida State Statutes.

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett has expressed his own concern at whether the mailing language could be construed as voter intimidation.

The Florida Division of Elections responded with a written statement on Friday, but did not address the voter intimidation matter, saying only that Florida has a broad public records law, "and there is no exemption for voter history information," Director of Communications Brittany Lesser wrote.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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