By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Gov. Rick Scott and the FBI are investigating a series of fake letters that tell voters they are suspected of not being a citizen.
More than 20 counties in the state have received these fake letters targeting mostly Republican voters — and they all appear to be coming from Seattle.
The letters warn individual voters that they are suspected of not being a citizen and would need to prove they are a citizen if they want to stay on the state’s voter rolls.
Right now, the state is removing suspected non-citizens from voter rolls. However, the state is using a federal database to identify non-citizens and the state is also removing a small group of voters at a time.
This week, Scott said he would have “zero tolerance” for the people or groups are sending the letters.
“We’re going to have zero tolerance,” [Scott] said. “We’ll get to the bottom of it. We’ll turn over any violations of law to law enforcement. I expect law enforcement to prosecute those individuals.”
Department of State officials were notified Friday by one instance where that had happened and by Monday, several more supervisors of elections had called in to report fraudulent letters appearing in voters’ mailboxes. Yesterday afternoon, they handed all information over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Now, the federal government is also getting involved.
According to the Associated Press, ”Tampa FBI chief Steven E. Ibison said Wednesday the FBI will focus on letters received by voters in 18 counties in central and southwest Florida [and] state authorities have received reports of letters in at least 23 counties.”
State officials have interpreted the letters to be a voter intimidation tactic, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail for each offense, or each letter sent. The FBI would examine federal offenses, including mail fraud.
“We don’t know the extent of the activity yet,” [FBI spokesman David Couvertier] said. “We’re looking at everything from civil rights violations to potentially voter fraud and everything in between.”
Couvertier said the Tampa FBI office is working in concert with the other agencies. It covers 18 counties, including Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, all of which got the letters.
Cate said the best estimate of the number of letters sent are “dozens.” The recipients so far tend to be Republican, frequent voters, who may even contribute to campaigns. Ion Sancho, Leon County’s supervisor of elections, has speculated that the names may have been lifted from a donor list. Jacksonville City Council president Bill Bishop, former U.S. Ambassador John Rood, and Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, all got one.
Officials are also skeptical about why the letters were sent to Republicans, which are easier to detect. There are no answers now, but the FBI said it is looking into different theories.
This is not the first voter suppression scheme that has taken place in the last month. There were also phone calls around the state telling voters that they can vote by phone. Of course, there is no such thing as voting by phone in Florida.